Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

How Northern Ireland is closing the net on trade in human misery

A raft of new laws and initiatives will clamp down on trafficking, but the public still has a role to play, says Justice Minister David Ford

Today, to mark Anti Trafficking Day, I am hosting a ‘Tackling Trafficking Together’ event, where representatives from a range of organisations will come together to discuss Northern Ireland’s response to this horrendous crime.

Many will find it hard to believe that people are being forced to come to Northern Ireland, or travelling here under false pretenses and then finding themselves working in the sex industry or in domestic servitude. But that is the reality, and police figures support this .

From April 2009 to March 2012, 81 people, all potential victims of trafficking, were rescued across Northern Ireland. Their nationalities included British, Czech, Tanzanian, Zimbabwean, Ghanaian, Slovakian, Chinese and Austrian. Since the beginning of April, a further seven potential victims of human trafficking have been recovered.

In the Department of Justice we are committed to provide our law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to tackle this criminal activity; to support victims of human trafficking and to raise awareness amongst the public that this could be happening in your neighbourhood.

More widely, I frequently discuss with the Irish Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, how we can work better together across Ireland, and sit on the UK Inter Departmental Ministerial Group which looks at a UK wide response to human trafficking. That group will today publish its first annual report setting out an assessment of the issue.

Here in Northern Ireland, my Department and other agencies are taking forward work to tackle human trafficking.

To strengthen the law, I have recently introduced a Bill in the Assembly that will create two new offences. These will extend 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 UK citizens within the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the Public Prosecution Service, following a consultation exercise, will also be publishing its policy for prosecuting cases of human trafficking.

Last week, I published new guidance for frontline staff which sets out working arrangements for the welfare and protection of adult victims of human trafficking.

It aims to build on the support that I know police officers and Health and Social Care staff provide.

My Department also funds a package of support for such victims. Delivered by Migrant Help and Women’s Aid, the support includes access to secure accommodation, healthcare and counselling. It also provides assistance with living expenses and access to legal advice and translation services.

The PSNI and other agencies are working to apprehend those involved but need the support of the public. We must all be alive to the fact that trafficking is going on in our community. In an effort to increase public awareness, my Department has run two phases of the Blue Blindfold campaign which asks the public to open their eyes to human trafficking. More information is available on www.blueblindfold.co.uk.

In order to increase awareness of human trafficking amongst young adults and third level students, I am today launching a joint competition with the Irish government. The competition will encourage third level students to research the issue and present their understanding of human trafficking through a photograph or short video.

I know that more can be done and I want to look at ways in which we can harness the very considerable interest in this issue from across the statutory and community sector into a constructive forum.

I am establishing a new Engagement Group on Human Trafficking, under the umbrella of the Organised Crime Taskforce. This group will include representatives of non-governmental organisations — by working in partnership we can maximise our impact on the traffickers.

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