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Human trafficking

Human trafficking

Updated 18/06/2015


‘Modern Slavery is an international crime affecting an estimated 29.8 million slaves around the world.’
Modern Slavery UK web site

‘It is essential that we dispel the myth that slavery is not taking place in the United Kingdom.’
Minister of Justice David Ford MLA, N I Department of Justice, July 2014

‘People who used to move drugs around now move people around.’
Phil Taylor, Scotland and Northern Ireland Regional Director, UK Border Agency speaking at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Conference, Belfast, 20 April 2009

‘It wasn’t alright then. It isn’t alright now. Modern slavery traps more people today than in the entire 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.’
Blue Blindfold awareness campaign web site

‘According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), about 12.3 million people worldwide are in forced labour, bonded labour, forced child labour or sexual servitude at any given time. Other estimates range between 4 million and 27 million. According to US Government-sponsored research, about 800,000 people are trafficked across national boundaries each year, about 80% of whom are women and girls and “up to 50%” are children.’
House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK, Sixth Report of Session 2008–09 Volume I, p.14

What is Human Trafficking?

What is Human Trafficking?
‘Trafficking involves transporting people away from the communities in which they live and forcing them to work against their will using violence, deception, or coercion. When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved: simply transporting them into exploitative conditions constitutes trafficking. People are trafficked both between countries and within the borders of a state.’
Definition by Anti-Slavery, Read in full

Stories of Victims indicate the damage this crime inflicts.
See also stories on the Modern Slavery website

Read more

The UK situation and policy

Although justice has been devolved the N Ireland arrangements for identifying victims sit within the UK framework.

Types of Trafficking in the UK
The Modern Slavery UK web site identifies the following:

• Child Trafficking – Children moved either nationally or internationally so that they can be exploited.
• Forced Labour/ Debt Bondage – Victims are forced to work to pay off loans that they can never hope to clear.
• Forced Labour – Victims are forced to work for little or no pay in bad conditions under threats to themselves or their families.
• Sexual Exploitation – People are forced into performing abusive sexual acts in situations such as prostitution and pornography.
• Criminal Exploitation – Victims are forced into crimes such as pick-pocketing or cannabis cultivation.
(In 2011 two people were also recorded as to having been brought to the UK for organ harvesting.)

Policy and Practice
The UK ratified the UN Convention Against Human Trafficking in 2008 and this included signing up to a new national referral mechanism, a process to help frontline staff identify victims of trafficking and offer them support. The UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM) was introduced in 2009. It strengthened arrangements for looking after victims, including a 45-day reflection and recovery period, and the possibility of a one-year residence permit.
The Government published a new strategy promising stronger action in spring 2011. The Government also announced that they would sign up to the EU Trafficking Directive in March 2011.  The First Annual Report of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking was published in 2012 and assessed the situation in the UK.  A new National Crime Agency (NCA) – a kind of UK FBI – was established in 2013. This aims to pull together intelligence and co-ordinate the national response to organised crime, including trafficking. (It incorporates the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and the Child Exploitation and Protection Centre (CEOP).) There are difficulties locally because nationalist and republican politicians see the NCA as a threat to independent policing in N Ireland, while other parties think sufficient concessions have been made; fear that in not co-operating with the NCA a weapon will be lost in the war against crimes such as human trafficking; and worry that it would be expensive to replace NCA input effectively. See BBC News Report

It is impossible to tell how many victims of trafficking there are but The UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) Baseline Assessment published in August 2012 indicated that there were over 2,000 potential victims of human trafficking in the UK at that time. In 2013 there were 1,746 referrals to the NRM of which 41 were referred from N Ireland, 25 female and 16 male: a 173% increase on 2012.

Criticism of the UK’s support for victims of trafficking
In 2013 the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank was strident in its criticism of the UK’s ‘shambolic’ response to the problem of human trafficking in their It Happens Here report. They wanted the Home Office to be stripped of its major role because too many people were being seen as ‘illegal immigrants’ rather than victims of crime. Among the shortcomings described, the report notes a lack of leadership and widespread ignorance of the National Referral Mechanism among social workers. They said

The law should be changed to halt the current misunderstanding of human trafficking for non-sexual exploitation as an immigration matter. A new Modern Slavery Act should be introduced by Parliament to bring all human trafficking and modern slavery offences together. This will ensure that victims do not face the threat of prosecution and are encouraged to report abuse and seek help from welfare agencies.

Also in 2013, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group produced Hidden in Plain Sight, Three Years On: Updated Analysis of UK Measures to Protect Trafficked Persons, which found that, while the number of referrals had increased, the assistance given to them had not. There was also a disparity between the 80% of Europeans who were given positive decisions compared to 20% of those from the rest of the world, and a fear that some genuine victims were failing to be identified.

The Modern Slavery Bill
In 2013 the Government published the draft Modern Slavery Bill, which consolidates previous legislation and includes a maximum custodial sentence of life for traffickers. See BBC Report
Campaigners felt that the support for victims had not been put at the heart of the bill and that the drafting was rushed. Evangelical Alliance produced a briefing for churches in the hope of strengthening the bill and gaining the following:

• Focus on victims: ensuring that they are properly identified, receive immediate support and assistance and their case is fully investigated and that they are not prosecuted for crimes committed under duress and control of another.
• A strong and independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner
• Engagement with businesses: to bring greater transparency in supply chain legislation, and require businesses to disclose measures taken to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains and business practices.

The Bill is making its way through Parliament, 2014–15.

The UK National Referral Mechanism

UK National Trafficking Referral Mechanism (NRM)
The UK ratified the UN Convention Against Human Trafficking in 2008 and this included signing up to a new national referral mechanism, a process to help frontline staff identify victims of trafficking and offer them support. The UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM) was introduced in 2009. It strengthened arrangements for looking after victims, including a 45-day reflection and recovery period, and the possibility of a one-year residence permit.

If an organisation or individual suspects that a person has been trafficked they are expected to inform an organisation on the list of First Responders. (Locally this includes agencies such as the PSNI, Home Office, NHS Trusts and some NGOs including Migrant Help.) They complete a Referral Form that is sent to the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield or, if there are immigration law implications, the Home Office.

A person may make a claim for asylum and those who are considering the asylum claim should be made aware of the Trafficking Referral. After 5 days there should be a Reasonable Grounds decision and then the person will have a 30-day Reflection Period during which they have time to decide whether to co-operate with the authorities. The reflection period may be extended to 45 days. If the Conclusive Decision is positive, they should be given one year’s Discretionary Leave to Remain, although some people choose to return to their countries of origin.

While there is concern that the time is too short to allow traumatized people to feel able to tell their stories, some people have said they would prefer a quicker decision if they could be sure that their co-operation would have a positive outcome. Others will never find it easy to co-operate because their fear is so great, especially if traffickers have made threats to their families back home. There can also be an abiding sense of shame about being sent home, and about outstanding debts to family or friends who thought they were sending someone to a successful life in another country. Support organisations are concerned at negative decisions where cases had appeared strong, and fear that failure to be recognised as trafficking victims may have the effect of reducing the credibility of people who also have asylum claims.

Care of Trafficked people in N Ireland
Specialist PSNI officers have been trained to debrief rescued people and all front line police officers are supposed be trained to recognise the key indicators that people may have been exploited.

Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland  looks after adult female victims of trafficking recovered here. Support is given through Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid and Foyle Women’s Aid groups. They work with the Human Trafficking Social Care Group of the Department of Justice NI with. Migrant Help supports the adult male victims. Minors are the responsibility of the local Health and Social Care Trust.

Further Reading
Working Arrangements for the Welfare and Safeguarding of Child Victims of Human Trafficking: Guidance issued by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the PSNI February 2011.

Victims of Trafficking: Guidelines for Frontline Staff UK Border Agency 

UKBA Instructions on Referring Children in Need 

Caring for Trafficked Persons: Guidance for Health Professionals IOM

Home Office Documents relating to Human Trafficking

The Situation in N Ireland

Trafficking is not new. The BBC exposed the trafficking and exploitation of European nationals on farms here in 2002. Our land border with puts us in a unique position in the UK. Cheap direct flights mean that we are a gateway to both the GB and the Irish Republic. As there is more scrutiny of arrivals in London and Dublin, regional ports and airports are now favoured routes. In the scoping study, The Nature and Extent of Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland, 2009, the authors said that the problem was difficult to quantify, with victims often reluctant to admit the nature of their situation. They quoted a law enforcement officer who described the three types of trafficking.

… if we were to put it in [some] order, I’d say at the moment in Northern Ireland forced labour is the biggest problem with trafficking, followed very closely by sexual exploitation, and third would be domestic servitude.

These categories can be blurred. For example, people in domestic servitude or forced labour may be subject to sexual exploitation. Extreme labour exploitation occurs in many sectors, with reports of debt bondage, and of workers exploited in care homes, with passports retained by employers.

Recent Developments in Brief

  • In March 2009, new N Ireland support services were launched along with the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Specialist PSNI officers were to be trained to debrief rescued people, and all front-line police officers trained to recognise the key indicators that people may have been exploited.
  • There has been criticism of the local arrangements for looking after victims in a number of reports (see below).
  • The PSNI has rescued significant numbers of people: 25 in 2009–10; 23 in 2010–11; and 33 in 2011–12 and in 2012 there was the first local conviction when Hungarian national Matyas Pis changed his plea to guilty of trafficking, brothel keeping and controlling prostitution.
  • In 2013 there were 1,746 referrals to the NRM of which 41 were referred from N Ireland, 25 female and 16 male: a 173% increase on 2012. www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/publications/139-national-referral-mechanism-statistics-2013/file
  • There were at least 12 referrals relating to child trafficking 2009 – 2012. niccy.org/downloads/2014/Publications/Guardianship_reports_Feb_14/NICCY_Guardianship_main_report_-_Feb_14.pdf
  • The Department of Justice NI (DOJ) the Visitor or Victim campaign, 2010, featured a poster and leaflet in nine languages encouraging trafficked people to come forward.
  • An All-Party Group on Human Trafficking was formed at Stormont in 2012
  • In October 2012 the DOJ and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) published guidance on the care of adult and child victims of human trafficking.
  • At the end of 2012 the Justice Minister hosted the first meeting of an NGO Engagement Group comprised of representatives from public bodies and NGOs.
  • In April 2013 The Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) brought N Ireland into line with the criminal aspects of the EU Directive on Human Trafficking. Traffickers operating internally within the UK are no longer immune from prosecution and trafficking offences prosecuted in N Ireland now have a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
  • In 2013 the DOJ also published its first annual trafficking action plan.
  • In August 2013 the Justice Minister launched an educational resource pack for post primary pupils.
  • In September 2013 the DOJ produced a leaflet, Human Trafficking: Know Your Rights, in eight languages to signpost potential victims to sources of help.
  • The Justice Minister announced, in January 2014, that he had held bilateral meetings with the leaders of the four main churches and said that

Churches are a significant part of our community and can play a vital role in identifying and reporting trafficking and exploitation where it occurs or is suspected.’ www.dojni.gov.uk/index/media-centre/news-archive/january_2014/ford-meets-with-church-leaders-to-discuss-human-trafficking.htm

Read about DOJ NI initiatives and statements on human trafficking online 

Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill
A Private Members Bill on human trafficking was initiated by Lord Morrow in September 2012. Some proposals have been welcomed widely, especially those relating to the provision of protection and services for victims. Clause 6 (previously Clause 4) proposes making it illegal to pay for sexual services. This has been praised by some people, but others feel it blurs the issue of prostitution and trafficking and there is anxiety about outlawing prostitution without putting in place supported exit strategies for those who will lose their livelihoods. Making payment for sex services illegal would follow the example of Sweden (the Nordic model). Other European countries, including the Republic of Ireland seem likely to follow and some argue that if the UK does not do likewise it will become more attractive for people who want to continue to earn money from sexual exploitation.

In January 2014 Justice Minister David Ford and Lord Morrow wrote jointly to the NI Justice Committee explaining that they had managed to come to agreement on the bill. A synopsis of the bill’s clauses can be found online.

Reports and Consultations on Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland
Human Trafficking and Slavery: Strengthening Northern Ireland’s Response. Consultation on the UK Modern Slavery Bill, January 2014.

Consultation on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill 

NI Council for Ethnic Minorities, Briefing Document: Analysis of Current Responses to Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland, 2012

Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) Report concerning the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by the United Kingdom, 2012,

Law Centre NI consultation response to GRETA, 2012.

Michael Potter and Leigh Egerton. NI Assembly Research and Information Service Research Paper: Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland, 2012.

Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group’s, Wrong Kind of Victim, 2010. Summary Report  Full Report

Sarah Toucas and Anne Caughey, The Nature and Extent of Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland, Institute for Conflict Research, 2009.


What can you do?

Find out as much as you can so that you can spot the signs and act to help trafficked people.