New study highlights challenges in current system for victims of human trafficking, including lack of suitable accommodation
New EMN Ireland/ESRI research examines the policies and procedures in place in Ireland to detect, identify and protect non-EU national victims of human trafficking. Between 2015 and 2020, 356 people were identified by An Garda Síochána as suspected victims of human trafficking, of them approximately 59 per cent were non-EU nationals.
The research is part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network (EMN), which is funded in Ireland by the European Commission and the Department of Justice.
Detection and identification of victims of trafficking
Currently, detection of victims of trafficking occurs through referrals from NGOs, during workplace inspections or Garda raids, and through a vulnerability assessment in an asylum application. A victim may also self-report to a Garda station.
While training of frontline staff occurs in a broad range of sectors, including social work and immigration services, stakeholders interviewed indicated more training and screening mechanisms were needed. Non-governmental stakeholders also raised concerns about the effectiveness of detection methods such as Garda operations and workplace inspections.
Once a situation of human trafficking is detected, the next step is identification. This procedure is conducted by An Garda Síochána. The first Garda member to encounter a victim will assess whether there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is a victim of human trafficking.
Stakeholders highlighted several challenges in the current procedure, including: the role of An Garda Síochána as the sole authority for identification in that it may deter victims of human trafficking from reporting; that the procedure is not on statutory footing, which can make it difficult for victims of trafficking to exercise their rights; and delays in early identification.
Once identified by An Garda Síochána, a victim gains access to supports as part of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Initially, a victim of trafficking may be granted a 60-day ‘recovery and reflection’ period, during which they must decide whether they wish to cooperate in the criminal investigation. They are offered accommodation in International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) centres. Following this period, undocumented non-EU nationals can be issued with renewable six-month Temporary Residence Permissions. Other supports include social and medical assistance from the HSE’s Anti-Human Trafficking Team, civil legal aid, and some social welfare supports.
Stakeholders identified challenges and limitations in the supports provided. Stakeholders highlighted that victims who are also applicants for international protection have reduced access to social welfare and the labour market. The temporary nature of the residence permission was identified as a source of uncertainty and insecurity. IPAS centres were also seen as inappropriate places for victims of human trafficking by non-governmental stakeholders, who recommended the establishment of a specialised, gender-sensitive centre for victims. Limitations were also highlighted in the civil legal aid provided.
In May 2021, the Government proposed to reform the NRM to expand the number of bodies competent to identify victims, to place the identification procedure on statutory footing, and to involve NGOs as ‘trusted partners’. The government’s White Paper to End Direct Provision and to Establish a New International Protection Support Service proposes the establishment of specialised accommodation for victims. As detailed in the study, this accommodation has not yet been secured.
Emily Cunniffe, co-author of the study stated: “This study provides an overview of current policies for detecting, identifying and protecting non-EU national victims of human trafficking. Challenges highlighted by the range of stakeholders consulted provide context for the Government’s 2021 proposals for reform. This study is particularly timely given concerns about increased risks of human trafficking following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”