According to the latest provisional crime figures released by the Gardaí, the number of human trafficking offences last year showed an increase of 31% on 2021 and were more than twice the number in 2019. 2021 had also seen an increase of 50% on 2020.
It is clear then that it is a problem that is increasing, and that if anything the international restrictions on all travel during the Covid lockdown only represented a temporary slowing down of the numbers. As restrictions have lifted and as immigration, including illegal immigration, has radically increased so too has the associated problem of people being trafficked.
Mostly, it is a problem that remains out of public consciousness other than the occasional court case which might involve the prosecution of a victim rather than a perpetrator. Some recent examples include persons who were arrested and charged after being found in cannabis grow factories.
On Thursday, Saleban Abdisahar who was described in court as a Swedish citizen – he came to that country from Somalia – was sentenced to 3 years having been convicted on three counts of trafficking at Dublin airport in January and February 2021. Our old pal Justice Nolan did not impose a higher sentence that was available and concluded on the basis of their acquaintance that the Swede struck him as a “pleasant man.”
The flight in question had arrived from Bordeaux and Abdisahar was found to be in possession of a false Swedish passport. His phone contained photos of other false passports and documentation and he also had a Dutch passport which did not belong to him. A woman who he admitted to having brought with him was located and found also to have similar phone shots but no travel documentation.
His defence Luigi Rea said that Abdisahar wanted to return home, not to Somalia of course, but to Sweden. Perhaps Rea ought to have argued that demanding such documentation constituted an abuse of Abdisahar’s rights as several NGOs have done in response to the recent announcement that checks were to be increased.
I also seem to recall that an NGO activist several years ago had, unbeknownst to her, a person convicted of trafficking, living in her house.
The Irish state has a poor record with regard to human trafficking and in 2020 the US State Department downgraded Ireland to its Tier Two watch list along with Romania. Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uganda.
Ireland had until 2018 been ranked as a Tier One country. The criteria for being included among such places included the fact that “the estimated numbers of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions.” Perhaps more damningly, the report said that there was a failure to provide evidence to prove that the authorities were taking the appropriate measures in terms of investigation, prosecution and convictions.
2020 Trafficking in Persons Report (state.gov)
Lest anyone think that the 2020 report made the Irish state pull its socks up and drag us out of that shameful company, it did not. We remained the only state in Western Europe with such a ranking in the 2021 report.
The 2022 report does upgrade Ireland to Tier Two along with Romania which may partly be due to the overall restrictions on international travel, including illegal movements, which was also reflected to a drop in asylum seekers here, but it does recognise some progress in “increasing convictions.”
Embarrassingly, however, this was mainly based on just two convictions under the specific anti-trafficking law, “for the first time since at least 2013.” The report also concludes that the state “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The low numbers of prosecutions and convictions contrasts with the more than 500 victims identified and that such laxity encourages the traffickers and acts as a disincentive to victims to testify.
Among the positive measures apparently was the expunging in April 2021 of 607 convictions for sex offences, presumably on the basis that the persons convicted had been trafficked to Ireland to be forced into prostitution. That paints a rather disturbing picture of what is going on in the country.
Among the ongoing failures are the small number of convictions, the failure to prosecute anyone for using trafficked persons as labour, as well as deficiencies in identifying victims and offering assistance to them.
You would imagine that with the plethora of NGOs who draw down vast amounts of money through “advocacy” on behalf of migrants that there would be much more activity and light thrown on the area of trafficking.
This is clearly not the case, with the notable exception of one organisation dedicated to identifying and assisting the victims of sex trafficking. That organisation, Ruhama has been criticised by other NGOs and left feminists for not supporting their demand that prostitution be legalised on the basis that prostitution ought to be considered to be a job like any other.
That approach, in common with those who used to romanticise the ‘Monto’ of the Dublin red light district that largely served the British military garrison here, ignores the squalor and violence associated with this economic sector.
Interestingly, the 2022 report recommends that particular focus be placed on victims who are Irish citizens, which perhaps begs some questions with regard to the naturalisation process here. It also calls for investigation into the abuse of people trafficked here to work with specific reference to the “working scheme for sea fishers” which suggests that formal legalities such as work permits may provide cover for this sordid trade in humans who are exploited for other people’s gain.
Among other examples cited are: Lithuanians forced into criminality, Brazilians recruited through employment agencies who are forced into prostitution, as well as persons made to work for cannabis growing gangs, as agricultural workers, and even in car washes.
As with many other aspects of life here, much of the effort of the state is channelled through the NGOs, which given the poor record of the state in tackling human trafficking, suggests that the returns are not substantial relative to the sums expended.
Perhaps, more focus ought to be on tackling the problem at its source: how do so many people manage to enter the country, either legally or illegally, and then enter into a world of which the authorities appear to have little intelligence; how many are allowed enter legally through the work permits system only to be exploited as low paid, and even illegally underpaid, workers in sectors where employers can bring in people from outside of the EU and EEA.
If more resources were focused on catching people like Abdisahar and those who he and his gang masters bring to Ireland; and then speeding up the process by which the organisers are convicted and given proper sentences, and under which those trafficked are processed and deported, perhaps that might have more of an impact on tackling the problem.
It might also place Ireland back on the same level of countries that are serious about all of this, both from the perspective of the human rights of the victims and the integrity of the state the authorities are supposed to be protecting.