86 victims rescued from vile human traffickers in Northern Ireland over past two years
Eighty-six suspected victims of human trafficking have been found in Northern Ireland in the last two years.
A third of the victims were under the age of 18, a report revealed.
Many were from overseas, including Romanian and Chinese nationals.
However, others were British and Irish nationals who had been trafficked within the UK and Ireland.
The details emerged in a report released by the Department of Justice.
It includes a cross-border analysis of human trafficking in Ireland.
The key findings are:
- 176 potential or suspected human trafficking victims were recorded across both jurisdictions during 2013 and 2014, 86 of them in Northern Ireland.
- Almost all had been trafficked for sexual or labour exploitation.
- 34 of the victims in Northern Ireland were Romanian. Another 17 were Chinese nationals and three were from Nigeria.
- A further 15 had been British or Irish nationals trafficked within the UK and Ireland.
- Other countries of origin of suspected victims included Vietnam, Kuwait, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe and Congo.
The report notes that the figures represent only part of the human trafficking picture, as more victims are likely to be hidden. Yesterday's publication examines progress against the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking and Exploitation Action Plan for 2014/15 launched last May.
The plan identified priorities across a range of areas such as prevention; support and protection for victims, and strengthening law enforcement.
Justice Minister David Ford said: "Human trafficking is an appalling crime where victims are robbed of their basic rights and forced into a life of slavery.
"There can be no room for complacency, and I am pleased that good progress has been made in the course of the year with a number of important actions delivered."
Many of the actions taken forward over the past year were legislative in nature.
Last month a new law aimed at stopping human trafficking came into operation. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 makes paying for sex illegal.
The Private Member's Bill was brought before the Assembly by Lord Morrow and passed its final stage in December. The DUP peer described human trafficking as "a heinous crime" that had to be tackled in Northern Ireland.
Other non-legislative progress includes training for those who might come across a victim during the course of their work.
Mr Ford said: "For the past two years I have published human trafficking action plans which ensured that the vital groundwork had been completed and that a clear strategic direction had been set for the years ahead. Later this year I will publish the first annual Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy for Northern Ireland, which will further progress the work taken forward through these action plans."
Last August 20 potential victims of human trafficking were rescued in Co Armagh.
The victims were all Romanian, 14 men and six women. They were found following an investigation into labour exploitation.
A total of 41 potential victims of human trafficking were recorded in Northern Ireland and a further 44 in the Republic of Ireland in 2013. Last year a further 45 victims from Northern Ireland and 46 from the Republic were recorded. Although most had been trafficked from overseas, including Romania and China, the report notes that a fifth of suspected victims were UK or Irish nationals.