Call to help trafficking victims
More needs to be done to support victims of human trafficking, an ethnic minorities group has claimed.
Justice Minister David Ford intends to introduce measures to comply with an EU directive on human trafficking as well as other steps to improve work with independent help groups.
The move would strengthen legislation by extending powers to prosecute UK nationals who commit human trafficking offences anywhere in the world and create a specific offence to deal with those who traffick United Kingdom citizens within the United Kingdom.
Helena Macormac, advocacy officer at the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, said more needed to be done.
"It is a really important step but the directive would concentrate a lot on looking at transnational measures but what we would be keen to see is a much more co-ordinated, human-centred approach in Northern Ireland," she said.
Mr Ford launched a public consultation on creating two new offences to bring Northern Ireland into line with the EU directive as well as engaging with lobby groups on the issue.
"Human trafficking is a global problem but we must act locally to both rescue those trafficked into Northern Ireland and bring those behind this form of modern day slavery before the courts," he said.
Ms Macormac welcomed the consultation but said she wanted to see further initiatives including: tackling demand for sexual services by opening debate with wider society; working with internet providers to tackle the online advertising of sexual services; improved resources for the gangmaster licensing authority so they can have greater powers to identify instances of forced labour; and prosecution guidelines being introduced swiftly.
"In addition, the UK Border Agency is a key agency in tackling trafficking. However, its functions are not devolved to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland should have a greater role in immigration issues so that a Northern Ireland-focused inter-agency approach can be developed in partnership with the PSNI and DOJ (Department of Justice)," she said.
"Above all, a victim-centred approach is paramount so that victims, once identified, can have immediate access to information in their own language, as well as access to specialist legal advice which can address the legal complexity of trafficking."