Belfast Telegraph

Human trafficking crackdown as MLAs target rise in Northern Ireland brothels

By Deborah McAleese

Women trafficked from China, Africa and eastern Europe are being held captive and forced to work as prostitutes in as many as 90 brothels across Northern Ireland.

The warning comes as a cross-party working group is launched at Stormont in a bid to tackle the growing scourge of human trafficking in the province.

More than 70 women have been rescued from the clutches of human traffickers since 2009.

There is also evidence that some men are being trafficked for labour exploitation.

The new working group intends to raise awareness of human trafficking in the province and lobby for stronger legislation and policies to make it more difficult for crime gangs to exploit vulnerable women and force them into the sex trade.

Anna Lo (below), chairwoman of the new All Party Group on Human Trafficking, said police believe there are around 90 brothels operating, which may be using trafficked women who have been tricked into coming to Northern Ireland and then forced into the sex trade by crime gangs.

“There is a growing problem here in Northern Ireland which really needs to be tackled. I have been speaking out for a long time about this problem so I am delighted that this working group has been established,” she said.

The Alliance MLA added: “Human trafficking is a hidden crime and it is difficult to know what the full extent is, but we know that it is happening and it has to stop.

“We want to send out the message to these traffickers that Northern Ireland is a hostile place for them.

“We want them to be treated severely.” Ms Lo said the group will be working to help raise awareness within the public arena of human trafficking and to address gaps in legislation, policy and practices.

The group hopes to work with other justice departments in Westminster, Scotland, Wales and the Republic.

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International is an adviser to the new Assembly group.

She described human trafficking and exploitation as “egregious violations of human rights”.

“The problem has been growing in scale in Northern Ireland in recent years and the new All Party Group shows that it will now get the political attention it deserves,” she said.

Justice Minister David Ford has already announced plans to introduce two new human trafficking offences in Northern Ireland. The proposals include the extension of powers to prosecute UK nationals who commit human trafficking offences anywhere in the world and the creation of a specific offence to deal with those who traffic UK citizens within the UK.

The PSNI identified 26 potential victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland last year from a number of countries including Ghana, China, Slovakia and Zimbabwe.

Last month a man was jailed for 18 months after becoming the first person to be convicted for trafficking in Northern Ireland.

Matyas Pis (38), formerly of Gaybrook Lawns in Dublin, was convicted at Belfast Crown Court of the trafficking of two women into the United Kingdom, controlling prostitution and brothel keeping.

Background

The PSNI identified 26 potential victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland last year from a number of countries including Ghana, China, Slovakia and Zimbabwe.

Police estimate there are around 90 brothels in operation, with Northern Ireland having a higher demand for prostitution than most other areas of Europe.

Many of the women working in the brothels have been trafficked from abroad.

They are held captive and forced into prostitution.

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