Human Trafficking

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is the movement of people by deception, coercion or violence, in order to exploit them. It involves 3 elements:

What is done: recruiting, transporting, harbouring and receiving people

How it is done: using threats or the use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud or deception, abuse of power, payment etc.

Why it is done: in order to exploit people: Including sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, other forms of slavery, removal of organs, controlling people so that they will perform criminal acts etc.

This is the internationally recognised definition of human trafficking:  

‘Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control of another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or removal of organs.’

In the UK The National Crime Agency lists sexual exploitation of men women and children, forced labour, domestic servitude, organ harvesting and child exploitation (including forced begging) as forms of human trafficking.

The Situation in the UK

Although justice has been devolved to Northern Ireland, arrangements for identifying victims sit within the UK framework. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidated existing legislation, increased maximum sentences, enhanced the support and protection of victims, and encouraged businesses to ensure that their supply chains were free of slavery.

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. 3,805 potential victims were referred to the NRM in 2016, 1,278 of whom were minors. The most common form of exploitation was labour exploitation. Potential victims were from 108 different countries.

In order to be recognised as a victim of trafficking and slavery via the NRM, people are referred to the UK Human Trafficking Centre who should decide within 5 days that there are ‘reasonable grounds’ for assuming that they are victims. Once referred, victims are given 45 days for reflection and recovery when they can decide what they want to do and whether they feel that they can co-operate with the police or not. They are helped with accommodation.

If it is decided that someone has been a victim of human trafficking, they are allowed to stay in the country for at least a year, have access to benefits and are allowed to work. They may get an extension especially if a criminal investigation is taking a long time. Some people want to go home and can be helped to do so.

If someone gets a negative decision, the Home Office may help them to go home if they have no other right to stay. Some people may also apply for asylum in the UK because of fear of persecution if they return home.

The Situation in Northern Ireland

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 aimed to improve capacity to tackle human trafficking, slavery or forced labour. It included new offences, increased sentences, power to confiscate assets, a new statutory defence for people who are compelled to commit other offences and, perhaps most controversially, the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services.

Some trafficked people in Northern Ireland may have been smuggled in, but many will have entered the country legally, either from Europe where they have not needed visas to work here, or from outside Europe, with visas as skilled migrants. They will probably have come here on the promise of a good job through a person or agency in their own country who arranged their transport and to whom they then owe a lot of money. On arrival the promised job will not exist. They will be controlled through threats and violence and told that the authorities may deport them if they complain.

The Home Office, local authorities, the health trusts and the PSNI can refer potential victims in Northern Ireland to the NRM. During the NRM recognition process, Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid support female victims of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude; Migrant Help UK support the other adults; and Social Services care for children and young people.

In 2016 NI first responders referred 33 people to the NRM. They were from 16 countries: Romania, China, Lithuania, Albania Iran, Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These potential victims included 27 adults and 6 minors; 17 were female, 16 were male.

For those 27 adults, the types of exploitation listed were as follows: 3 for domestic servitude; 13 for labour exploitation; 10 for sexual exploitation; and one unknown. (The type of exploitation for the minors was not specified)

Particular areas of exploitation in N Ireland include Agricultural work, Food processing, Sea fishing and Shellfish picking. Sexual exploitation is also significant, especially as victims can be moved easily across the border or the Irish Sea.

Read how Romanian workers were exploited in the Lurgan/ Portadown area in 2016:

(EMBRACE 2019)