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Ireland downgraded in report on fight against human trafficking

By Ann Marie Foley - 13 July, 2020

“We must be under no illusions – sex trafficking is happening in every city, town and village across the country, and it is overwhelmingly women and girls who are sacrificed to fill the demand for sexual gratification from so-called ‘sex buyers’,” said Ruhama CEO Barbara Condon.

Senator Rónán Mullen

The global annual report which evaluates how countries act to prevent human trafficking has demoted Ireland to the Tier 2 Watch List category, on a par with states like Saudi Arabia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kazakhstan.

The USA’s State Department annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report had Ireland in Tier 1 from 2013 to 2017, and in 2018 and 2019 it was demoted to Tier 2. This year’s ranking as Tier 2 Watch List means that Ireland has slipped even further below the Tier 1 ranking which is given to countries whose governments fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Responding to the report, Senator Rónán Mullen said that Ireland’s diminishing status was an “alarming” development.

“It is a tragedy of brutalising and epidemic proportions that can only be tackled effectively through the adoption and implementation of the highest standards. That is why it is so alarming to see Ireland’s efforts to eliminate this evil being assessed as having reached a new low,” he said.

Ruhama, an organisation which helps people affected by prostitution and trafficking in Ireland, stated that “massive gaps” remain in the identification and protection of victims of trafficking, and traffickers continue to go unpunished for their crimes.

Ruhama added that Ireland’s actions targeting so-called ‘sex buyers’ were acknowledged in the TIP report, but CEO Barbara Condon cautioned: “We must be under no illusions – sex trafficking is happening in every city, town and village across the country, and it is overwhelmingly women and girls who are sacrificed to fill the demand for sexual gratification from so-called ‘sex buyers’.”

The TIP Report stated that “the Government of Ireland does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”. However, the report continued that the Government is making significant efforts such as increasing prosecutions and funding to NGOs for victim assistance. The Government also increased the number of police and immigration officers who received anti-trafficking training, and reorganised its anti-trafficking coordination unit.

However, the Government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, so its Tier 2 status was further downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. The report gave the example that Ireland has not obtained a trafficking conviction since the law was amended in 2013. According to the report, this “weakened deterrence contributed to impunity for traffickers, and undermined efforts to support victims to testify”.

There were also “systematic deficiencies” in victim identification, referral, and assistance. The Government continued to lack specialised accommodation and adequate services for victims, and the amended working scheme for sea fishermen increased their vulnerability to trafficking.

The report stated that the police anti-trafficking unit reported 39 investigations in 2019 (36 sex trafficking and three labour) compared to 64 investigations in Ireland in 2018. The report highlighted the labour trafficking investigation involving 21 fishermen. While 20 of them received victim supports, there were no prosecutions. It also pointed out the problems around ensuring that victims of trafficking were formally identified; this meant that they would be detained in prison and sometimes prosecuted, and if and when they were finally identified as victims their criminal record could not be expunged.

The report noted that children (including Irish children) are victims of sex trafficking in Ireland. Traffickers also forced their victims in Ireland into labour in domestic work, the restaurant industry, waste management, fishing, seasonal agriculture and car-washing services. Some were also forced to manage cannabis growing houses. Au pairs were also vulnerable to trafficking.

CEO of Ruhama Barbara Condon

This is the 20th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report, and it was published on the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Palermo Protocol, which is widely adopted internationally.

The TIP Report is considered to be the gold standard of information about human trafficking around the world. It looks at 188 countries and how they perform around the three Ps: prosecution, protection, and prevention.

The report does not compare one country to another, but instead compares a country’s efforts during the reporting period to its efforts in the prior reporting period. This year there were 23 downgrades and 22 upgrades. Fourteen countries were upgraded from the Tier 2 Watch List and Namibia became the first country in Africa to achieve a Tier 1 ranking since 2012.

In relation to COVID-19, the publishers of the report stated that traffickers have not shut down and in fact are capitalising on the chaos and continuing to exploit people. In addition, vulnerable people are being made more vulnerable by this pandemic, partly due to illness and the risk of getting the virus, but also because of lockdown orders which mean that victims are forced to quarantine with their traffickers.

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