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Call to combat human trafficking in Northern Ireland

Human trafficking is on the rise in Northern Ireland and must be combated, an Assembly committee says.

A Public Accounts Committee report into organised crime warned of a wide range of illegal activity which it said ruined lives and robbed the public purse of millions of pounds.

Assembly members on the scrutiny committee gathered expert evidence on criminal operations which it concluded were undermining the wider aim of the peace process to create a prosperous and safe society.

The report, entitled Combating Organised Crime, estimated that fuel laundering and cross-border smuggling had cost the public purse £250 million over recent years, while counterfeiting has cost £200 million and extortion £10 million, while in the last year alone social security fraud cost £18 million.

Committee chairman Paul Maskey said: "Organised crime is a form of fraud that goes to the very heart of public finances. It threatens the Executive's overarching aim of achieving a peaceful, fair and prosperous society, with respect for the rule of law and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in years to come.

"Its impact on individuals, communities, society and the environment is devastating."

The Sinn Fein MLA added: "For example, human trafficking, a particularly heinous form of organised crime, is on the rise here and causing misery in our midst.

"Vulnerable women and children falsely enticed here by the prospects of employment, education and a better life, can find themselves the victims of domestic servitude or sexual exploitation. This cannot be allowed to continue."

The report recounted how senior police witnesses had given evidence to the committee that warned of the growth of human trafficking, though they said that exact evidence on the scale of the illegal trade can be difficult to obtain.

The head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland unit tackling organised crime, Chief Superintendent Roy McComb, branded the illegal trade as "slavery by another name".

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