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Ireland in U.S. Watch List for Human Trafficking

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Ireland risks to be placed into the worst category of countries in human trafficking and may see cultural exchanges suspended with the United States. Ireland, Belarus and Romania are the only European countries that don’t meet the “minimum requirements” or don’t make “necessary efforts to” stop human trafficking.

On July 1, the United States Department published the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report that overviews governmental efforts against human trafficking from April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021. For the U.S., human trafficking can consist of the use of force, fraud, or coercion for commercial sex acts or involuntary labour, services or servitude.

Ireland is in the watch-list tier for the second consecutive year and will be downgraded automatically if it doesn’t improve. According to the report, the country fails at prosecuting criminals and is deficient in identifying victims.

The report places each country in four tiers as mandated by the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Even if the report mentions that all countries can do better, almost all European countries make efforts that meet the “minimum standards of the TVPA“, or that at least see the number of victims decreasing severely or have a significant increase of convicted traffickers. Ireland is one of the few European countries that don’t meet sufficient criteria along with Romania and Belarus.

Map Europe human trafficking
Ireland among the few European countries that don't make enough efforts to fight human trafficking | U.S. Department of State

No convictions of a human trafficker in seven years

Yet, Ireland was still in the Tier 1 category, those that make enough efforts, in 2017. But it has been retrograded successively in 2018, and then placed into a watch list in 2020. For the U.S. State Department, the government of Ireland fails to show evidence of appropriate actions to remedy the issues.

According to the report, Ireland fails to prosecute traffickers. Since 2013 no one has been convicted under the Human Trafficking Act although it identified 508 victims of trafficking in the last seven years. Yet, since 2017 the burden of proof shifted to the accused who have to prove they were unaware the victim was exploited in trafficking. This lack of prosecution and conviction “weakened deterrence, contributed to impunity for traffickers, and undermined efforts to support victims to testify“. Courts were shut down for 16 weeks in 2020 due to the pandemic, which postponed a majority of jury trials.

No labour trafficker was sent to court and the government investigated and prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers in 2020. The Workplace Relation Commission conducted 7,687 labour inspections in 2020, a 60% increase compared to the previous year. Nonetheless, it didn’t identify any victims through the inspections, which were unannounced for 68% of them. An NGO raised concerns regarding the lack of jurisdiction for WRC inspectors to address violations.

Ireland human trafficking
Ireland has been downgraded to a watch list because of a lack of efforts and results in the fight against human trafficking in four years | U.S. Department of State

Ireland fails to take appropriate actions to remedy trafficking of people

Actually, victim identification – which has “systemic deficiencies” – decreased for the fourth consecutive year and reached its lowest point since 2013. “Experts continued to raise concerns regarding the government’s inability to identify trafficking victims due to shortcomings in its identification mechanism and limiting identification of victims solely to police.” An independent study found that between 2014 and 2019, the real number of victims was 38% higher than the official statistics.

Ireland is especially subject to forced labour in shipping vessels. Media also reported that Zimbabweans answered to job offers for positions in the tourism industry in the United Kingdom and Ireland but ended up being forced into domestic work.

However, in February 2021, a new police unit established to focus on the commercial sex industry, especially the victims of trafficking, which is a source of optimism/may improve results. The government also increased prevention efforts with media campaigns during the year.

Seventeen countries don't make the minimum necessary efforts

Being part of the watch list for Ireland for the second consecutive year can have consequences. The last two years were considered as a respite for the country but it would be automatically downgraded to the last tier of countries if it doesn’t show any significant improvement.

In that case, the United States may restrict government nonhumanitarian or nontrade related foreign assistance. Moreover, it may also stop educational and cultural exchange programs.

And Ireland would be part of countries like Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela, some of the 17 governments in the lowest tier “that do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so“.

Fifteen countries see armed forces recruiting or using child soldiers. Sometimes, governments are the abusers themselves. Eleven governments were identified as directly involved in trafficking. For instance, the report classifies China as a trafficker by detaining “more than one million Muslims, including Uyghurs, ethnic Hui, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, ethnic Tajiks, and ethnic Uzbeks, in as many as 1,200 state-run internment camps throughout Xinjiang“.

The Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the consequences of misinformation with the use of false narratives as recruitment tools, and the “monumental” challenges caused by the pandemic. In effect, the most vulnerable are more likely to become prey of sex or labor traffickers. “If there is one thing we have learned in the last year, it is that human trafficking does not stop during a pandemic“, wrote Kari Johnstone the acting director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from the U.S. Department of State.

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