Human Trafficking in Ireland
2017-10-15 06:10:44 -

Human trafficking is happening in Ireland - DON'T CLOSE YOUR EYES


What is human trafficking?

Trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. It is essentially about coercing or deceiving someone so that they can be moved into a situation where they are exploited. 


The crime has three distinct elements: The act of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons must be done by a means such as the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments, and it must be for the purpose of exploitation (including prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices, forced begging, criminal activities, or removal of organs).


People can be trafficked into numerous exploitative situations. These can range from forced labour (car washes, restaurant and hotel work, nail bars, domestic work, construction, agriculture and entertainment), to sexual exploitation (prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation), to forced criminality (ATM theft, pick-pocketing, benefit fraud, drug production/cultivation) and also forced begging.


There is no requirement that a person must have crossed a border for trafficking to have taken place – it can and does take place within national borders. 


It is important to note that people smuggling and human trafficking are not the same thing. People are trafficked by means of coercion or deception, whereas people who are smuggled usually consent to being smuggled.


Why does it happen?

Trafficking in human beings is a high-profit, low-risk crime based upon the principles of supply and demand. 


Criminal gangs or individuals take advantage of a series of what are known as ‘push and pull’ factors, which explain why vulnerable individuals who lack opportunities and seek better living conditions in their own or a foreign country, end up being part of a human trafficking chain. This, in combination with the demand for cheap labour and sexual services, fuels human trafficking. 


Push factors can include poverty, lack of opportunities or alternatives such as little or no education, unemployment or low-wage employment, gender-based discrimination including domestic violence and the impact of political instability and corruption, conflict or transition of countries, especially war. 


Pull factors may include the expectation of employment and financial reward and demand for cheap labour, provision of sexual services, organs and tissues.


Human trafficking in Ireland

The latest figures show that between January 2009 and December 2016, a total of 512 suspected victims of human trafficking were reported to or detected by An Garda Síochána. There has been an increase in the number of victims detected in the past three years. However, the full extent of the issue is not known due to the underground nature of the crime.


There has been a dedicated Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in the Department of Justice and Equality since 2008, and in 2009 the Garda Commissioner established a Human Trafficking Investigation and Co-ordination Unit to provide a lead role on policy issues in the field of human trafficking.  


The unit acts as a centre of excellence for the organisation and oversees all investigations where there is an element of human trafficking and provides advice, guidance and operational support for investigations. Gardaí interact with Interpol and Europol on a regular basis as part of human trafficking investigations.


Throughout 2017, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit has been working to improve the State’s ‘National Referral Mechanism’, the framework through which State bodies, working in partnership with civil society groups, fulfil their obligations to protect and promote the human rights of trafficking victims. 


2017 also saw the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act. The act enhances and updates laws to combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, including new offences relating to child sexual grooming and new and strengthened offences to tackle child pornography. The act also criminalises the purchase of sexual services, introduces new provisions regarding the giving of evidence by victims in sexual offence trials and introduces a new offence addressing public indecency.


Further legislative progress in 2017 in the area of human trafficking includes the Domestic Violence Bill, published in February. The bill seeks to criminalise the act of forcing someone to enter into a ceremony of marriage, or removing a person from the State for such purposes. A ‘forced marriage’ occurs when a person is pressured into a marriage they do not consent to, or cannot consent to due to age or disability. It is hoped that the bill will be enacted in the near future.


Know the signs

No one willingly signs up to becoming a slave. Traffickers frequently recruit victims through fraudulent advertisements which promise legitimate jobs. Trafficking victims can be recruited by family members and can come from rural and urban settings. 


However, recognising that a person may be a victim of human trafficking is a difficult task. Being familiar with some of the general indicators of trafficking will be of assistance. 


A potential victim of human trafficking might:


- Allow others to speak for them when directly addressed. 

- Have their movement controlled and show fear or anxiety 

- Be subjected to violence or threats of violence. 

- Be unfamiliar with the local language.

- Not be in possession of their passport or other identity documents, as those are being held by someone else. 

- Be in a situation of dependence.


How victims present

Victims of human trafficking may suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, memory loss, depression, substance abuse and eating disorders or a combination of these conditions.  


People who have suffered at the hands of traffickers may be conditioned to mask the truth and severity of the trauma which they have experienced.  Victims may feel that no one will believe their story and be distrustful of people in authority and of the motives of those who are actually trying to help them.


This is where our associated NGOs act as a vital safety net. In Ireland NGOs active in the field of human trafficking include Ruhama (sexual exploitation), the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (labour exploitation), the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Sexual Violence Centre Cork and Doras Luimni in Limerick. Contact information for these organisations is available on


Report suspicions anonymously 

Human trafficking may be happening anywhere in Ireland – in cities, towns and villages. You can help prevent human trafficking by being vigilant and by reporting any suspicions or information to the Garda.


- If someone believes that a person might be a victim of human trafficking, they should ring 999 or 112 if they think that a person is in imminent danger.


- If they have any information or suspect someone to be a trafficker or a victim of trafficking, an anonymous telephone hotline to confidentially report suspicions of trafficking is available at 1800 25 00 25, 

- Or they can email their concerns to

- Where a potential victim does not wish to engage with the authorities they can be referred to the aforementioned NGOs.


For more information visit:

Anti-Human Trafficking Unit 

Department of Justice and Equality 

94 St Stephen’s Green, 

Dublin 2

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