Northern Ireland a 'staging post' for human traffickers
Northern Ireland is a "staging post" for human traffickers, the Justice Minister has warned.
The evil trade passes between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, David Ford told the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Stormont minister said it was a growing problem and appealed for men to think again about visiting brothels.
A Scotland-based crime gang suspected of trafficking women to work as prostitutes in Belfast was arrested this month.
The minister said: "There is no doubt Northern Ireland is a staging post between Scotland and the Republic and sometimes on a wider spread basis."
He said the gangs were creating a culture of fear and added men must become more aware of the effects of what they were doing.
An amended motion condemning human trafficking was passed in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Ulster Unionist Party, which proposed the motion, has called for Northern Ireland to be turned into a hostile territory for human traffickers.
Alliance Party MLA Anna Lo also said: "It is essential there's also co-operation with the Republic of Ireland and other countries in the EU.
"Northern Ireland has been shown as a transit route between Dublin to the rest of the UK in both directions."
Sinn Fein's Billy Leonard called for more co-operation between police forces to combat the problem.
"There needs to be a co-ordinated approach across the island if we are to successfully halt this form of human slavery," he said.
"Policing is key to resolving the problem and there needs to be a harsher approach against those who not only exploit these unfortunate people for financial gain but also those who use the people for sexual gratification."
In June Mr Ford revealed that 25 victims of human trafficking were rescued in Northern Ireland in 2009.