Trafficking crackdown 'not protecting victims'

Civil rights groups today hit out at tough measures to crack down on human traffickers claiming they don’t go far enough to protect the victims.

Under Justice Minister Dermot Ahern’s plan gangsters running the criminal trade face up to life behind bars but Ruhama, Amnesty and the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) said sex workers were not getting badly needed protection.

Gerardine Rowley, of Ruhama, said vulnerable people were effectively abandoned.

“Our experience on the ground is still that victims of sex trafficking are not being believed, not getting adequate support and their human rights are not being respected in all cases,” she said.

The support group said in the last year, only four victims of trafficking have been granted special recovery and reflection period.

And Ms Rowley also claimed victims who turn state witness are often forced to co-operate before being given guarantees they can stay in Ireland.

Earlier this week new criminal sanctions for sex tourists who abuse children abroad and those who groom children online were proposed by the European Commission.

The measures are being discussed by officials from each member state; once approved by justice ministers, they should be translated into national law.

As well as the life prison terms, the Department of Justice plan includes awareness campaigns and counselling; it will offer work permits, protect victims’ identities and house trafficked children with families.

It also supports the Garda Inspectorate’s call for an emergency alert system for missing children.

Mr Ahern said: “Effectively, we are dealing with a modern form of slavery, a gross violation of human rights and an extremely profitable business for organised crime.

But Denise Charlton, ICI chief executive, said: “It (the plan) is crucial not only for the women and girls who have been trafficked here for the purposes of sexual exploitation and are being abused for profit on Irish soil, experiencing severe trauma as a result, but also to help ensure successful prosecutions can take place.”

Ms Charlton, whose organisation revealed more than 100 women and girls were trafficked into or through Ireland for sexual exploitation over a two-year period, said the main complaint was that the plan links migrants to people smuggling.

“It continues to link trafficking to illegal migration, rather than seeing victims of sex trafficking as victims of trans-national organised crime,” she said.

Amnesty’s Colm O’Gorman said he welcomed the 60-day recovery and reflection period for trafficking victims.

“But it is disappointing that the granting of six months temporary residence permits to victims is conditional on co-operating with a criminal investigation since one may not take place and it is unclear what happens when an investigation finishes,” he said.

Mr O’Gorman said housing victims in asylum centres was inappropriate and unsafe.

“The plan is very weak on supports for trafficking victims,” he said.

“In many cases these people have been raped, beaten, tortured and abused. It is unclear how their needs for legal assistance, social supports, and counselling and suitable medical care are to be met.”

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