Scheme highlights human trafficking
Money drawn from the seized assets of criminals has paid for a new project aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking in Northern Ireland.
The Gift Box is an interactive structure that will be taken around the region in a bid to highlight the plight of those targeted by traffickers.
Almost 40 potential victims of human trafficking were rescued in Northern Ireland in the last financial year.
The majority of the 38 people were female and most were being exploited in the sex industry.
They hailed from China, Romania, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Nigeria, Vietnam, the Philippines and also locally in Northern Ireland.
The portable Gift Box looks like an attractive present on the outside but inside contains personal stories of trafficking and information about the issue.
It was started by the United Nations and was promoted at the 2012 Olympics in London and a number of other events throughout the world.
It has been brought to Northern Ireland with funds from the PSNI's Assets Recovery Incentivisation Scheme, which uses money taken from criminals to promote community work.
The box was unveiled at Belfast City Hall but will be available for use anywhere in Northern Ireland.
It will be co-ordinated in the coming weeks and months by local charity No More Traffik.
Stormont's Justice Minister David Ford was at the unveiling.
"This Gift Box will help to build the capacity of people across Northern Ireland to spot the signs of trafficking and to report suspicious activity where they see it," he said.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said: "Police will continue to work to rescue victims and bring offenders before the courts but increased community awareness about this issue is equally important. Trafficking requires a comprehensive response from all of us."
The launch comes after the publication of the NI Human Trafficking and Exploitation Plan for 2014-15, which aims to s trengthen law enforcement, p rotect and support victims and p revent human trafficking and exploitation.
The event at the City Hall was supported by Belfast Police and Community Safety Partnership and was also attended by the Lord Mayor Councillor Nichola Mallon, Northern Ireland Policing Board member Jonathan Craig, Belfast Police and Community Safety Partnership chairman councillor Colin Keenan and No More Traffik development manager Gemma Wilson.
Ms Wilson said: "We believe that awareness leads to action and action to change. It is our hope that the Gift Box, which will make its way throughout NI at a wide range of events in Belfast, Derry, Craigavon, Bangor and other locations, will bring about more of the positive change we have seen in recent months."