The number of potential victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland referred to the Home Office has increased by more than 750pc in the last eight years, “extremely worrying” new figures have revealed.
uspected victims of human trafficking enter the Government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework for identifying and referring potential victims to the Home Office’s Single Competent Authority (SCA) to ensure they receive the appropriate support.
In 2012, there were 15 referrals in Northern Ireland to the NRM. By 2020 this had increased to 128 — a rise of just over 750pc.
Justice Minister Naomi Long explained that, over the initial Covid-19 period, there was a reduction in the number of referrals made to the NRM.
“For example, over quarter one (January to March 2020), 30 Northern Ireland related referrals were made and during quarter two (April to June 2020) this number fell to 18 referrals. This reflects the general trend for decreased reports of criminal activity over that period.
“Overall, however, there has been a broad upward trend in the number of potential victims referred to the NRM since 2012. The greater number of referrals in the last three years is not necessarily indicative of an increase in the prevalence of the crime.
“It may be influenced by factors such as increased awareness of modern slavery and human trafficking, and improved identification by statutory bodies of potential victims, which is to be welcomed.”
Green Party MLA Rachel Woods said she understands that the upward trend in referrals may be influenced by increased awareness and better identification by statutory bodies of potential victims, but it is still “extremely worrying”.
“We must do more to protect and support victims and I fully welcome the legislative changes in the Justice Bill that will extend statutory assistance to adult potential victims of slavery, servitude or forced labour,” she said.
“I look forward to working with the Minister of Justice and her Department, as well as the UK Government to ensure that this work is prioritised and that the relevant changes are made through the Assembly that will provide better support to victims.”
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said the figures show that urgent work needs to be completed to support those subjected to the criminal and cruel practice of human trafficking.
“One of the easiest ways of doing this is to end the ‘hostile environment’ approach created by Theresa May and rubber stamped by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, that forces people to take dangerous and unsafe journeys in order to seek out a better life,” he added.
“The Executive needs to robustly challenge these policies and press for a human immigration policy that doesn’t treat migrant workers, refugees or asylum seekers with suspicion or disdain and in turn leave them subject to exploitation to those who want to traffic human beings.”
Mrs Long added: “The Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Strategy for 2021-22, which I published in May, commits my Department and its partners to protecting victims and reducing the harm through improved victim identification and support.
“It reflects the awareness raising and training that has been provided to a range of statutory and non statutory organisations.
“My Department will continue to prioritise this work and incorporate it into a longer term strategic approach towards modern slavery and human trafficking.”