In April of this year, EMN Ireland published the study Detection, identification and protection of third-country national victims of human trafficking in Ireland, which examined developments in Irish policy between 2015 and 2020. Since publication of the report, there have been several significant developments in the Irish policy landscape with regard to human trafficking.
The first development is the publication of the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2022 on 27 July. This Bill amends the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to identify and protect victims of human trafficking. Under this new structure, there will be more pathways through which human trafficking victims may seek identification, protection, and support from the State. Currently, identification by An Garda Síochána is the only pathway into the NRM. As noted by the EMN Ireland study, the Department of Justice, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), a singular pathway to official identification and state assistance creates significant challenges, particularly for those victims who may be irregular migrants or who may have been trafficked for purposes of engaging in criminal activity.
Under the new Bill, a broader range of actors will be involved in identification. Competent Authorities and Trusted Partners will be able to receive applications for identification as a victim of human trafficking. These cases will be referred to an Operational Committee to officially identity victims. The Operational Committee will be made up of the Competent Authorities and Trusted Partners. The proposed Competent Authorities are An Garda Síochána, Tusla the Child and Family Agency, the Health Service Executive, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Social Protection, and the Workplace Relations Commission. Trusted Partners will be civil society organisations or bodies that work with or provide services to victims.
The General Scheme of the Bill also include specific provisions for third-country national victims of trafficking, particularly with regard to immigration status and vulnerability (see Part 1 for more on how immigration status increases vulnerability and may prevent some trafficking victims from making themselves known). Currently, under the Administrative Immigration Arrangements for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking, trafficking victims cannot be removed from the State during the recovery and reflection period, nor once they are identified as a suspected victim of trafficking. The new Bill will place this on a statutory basis, prohibiting the deportation of trafficking victims for immigration offenses committed while they were being trafficked, both while their application to be recognised as a victim of trafficking is being processed and after they have been recognised. It also includes language to prevent trafficking victims from being prosecuted for any role in their own trafficking.
A second recent development was the ranking upgrade of Ireland in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2022, from the ‘Tier 2 Watchlist’ to ‘Tier 2’, in July 2022. Ireland was downgraded to the Tier 2 watchlist in 2020. The return to Tier 2 was due to ‘significant efforts’ being made to combat human trafficking. Recent developments cited as influencing the upgrade included the first convictions in Ireland for human trafficking (in September 2021), Government approval for the revision of the NRM, increased funding to support victims and to raise public awareness, and the ongoing development of a new National Action Plan on Human Trafficking (the most recent National Action Plan was published in October 2016).
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