Detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s dedicated Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) are today (Sunday) marking Anti-Slavery Day 2020 by appealing to people to be aware of the signs of human trafficking.

In the last financial year, 111 potential victims of human trafficking were identified in Northern Ireland but the actual number of people in Northern Ireland affected by the crime is unknown as it often goes unreported and undetected within the community. 

Detective Inspector Mark Bell said: “Detectives from the Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit are committed to helping victims of all types of exploitation. Recently we conducted a number of operations targeting sexual and labour exploitation to highlight this often unseen crime and keep people safe.

“Some of the operations involved detectives meeting flights arriving at airports to screen for potential victims who are being trafficked as well as handing out leaflets to passengers to raise awareness of the signs to look out for. These types of operations are carried out throughout the year and so far in this financial year 70 potential victims have been referred to the NRM in the last six months. This is a substantial increase from 46 when compared to the same reporting period last year.  This increase is despite the restrictions on travel caused by Covid 19. 

 “This is why our operations are so important. We need victims to know there is help available and we need the public to be aware of the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking and report unusual activity to police as people brought to Northern Ireland as victims don’t always know who to reach out to for help.

“Last year, we found that labour exploitation was the most common form of exploitation. This despicable crime means that people are often carrying out hard labour or working in appalling conditions. Most of the time, the victims are forced to carry out this work or receive little or no payment for their efforts. The signs of labour exploitation to look out for include someone working against their will, people living and sleeping in their place of work in a group and rarely leaving those premises and people who aren’t paid for their work, don’t have a working contract or don’t have control of or access to their earnings.

“There are many different reasons why victims are trafficked. This could be for sexual exploitation or forcing someone to perform work that is either legal or illegal, such as forced begging, cannabis cultivation or drug dealing. Tell-tale signs that someone is a victim of modern slavery vary depending on the type of exploitation but there are things to look out for which are common across all forms of modern slavery. This includes:

Someone who can’t produce their passport or personal documents
Someone who is unsure of their home address or the local area
Someone who is distrustful of authorities as traffickers may have told victims that police will be violent towards them
Someone who has no access to medical treatment
Someone who appears to be under the control of others or always has someone else speak on their behalf
An over-crowded house or flat with a regular turnover of new occupants
Someone who may not have cash as they don’t get to keep the money that they earn

Detective Inspector Bell added: “Modern slavery denies victims their human right to life, safety and freedom. The criminals prey on vulnerable people, control them by fear and exploit them for their own selfish gains. I’m asking everyone in our local communities to be our eyes and ears and help stop this unacceptable crime.

“Modern slavery is a priority for the Police Service and we will investigate any incident and take action where there is sufficient evidence. We are working as hard as we can but we cannot tackle this problem alone. We rely on the strong partnerships that have been formed through the Department of Justice Organised Crime Task Force. Working closely with partners in An Garda Siochana, National Crime Agency, Public Prosecution Service, Immigration Enforcement, Border Force, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Custom and the Health and Safety Executive, we have recovered victims from exploitation in car washes, food manufacturing and processing factories and brothels to name a few. Many charities also play a really important role in assisting and supporting victims to rebuild their lives.

“I would urge people to visit the Human Trafficking page on PSNI’s website for more information on the signs to look out for. I would also ask people to help stop this unacceptable crime and contact us with any suspicions that they may have by calling 999 if it’s an emergency, 101 on a non-emergency or the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. One call could end the misery for a victim who could be living next door to you.”

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