Victims wait years to be formally identified by Gardaí
Today (Tuesday 2nd December), to mark International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, seven people who have endured slavery in Ireland will meet with the Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), Emily Logan, to raise their concerns about the State’s poor response to victims of this heinous crime. All seven have been campaigning with Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) for improved identification and protection for victims of forced labour (slavery) in Ireland.
Mariaam Bhatti, who endured forced labour in Dublin, stated “When you leave a situation of forced labour you may have no money, nowhere to go and no knowledge of the country you are in. It is frightening. It is very hard to get help. Many of us have been left in a legal limbo, with no protection from the state.”
MRCI’s Gráinne O’Toole stated “The treatment of victims is shocking. The only way victims can get protections such as counselling, healthcare, immigration status and other supports – and move on with their lives – is if the police formally identify them, but many people who have experienced forced labour wait years to hear whether are not the Gardaí consider them to be victims of a crime. Now we are also seeing victims being imprisoned for crimes they were forced to commit: people have been found locked into cannabis growhouses, malnourished and terrified, yet they were still treated as criminals.”
Sultana Anwar experienced forced labour as a domestic worker in Ireland. She stated, “I was kept in domestic slavery here for almost 3 years. I spent the last two and half years in a direct provision hostel, waiting to hear if I am a victim or not. Each day a part of me is dying. What does it take for the authorities to make a decision? The police finally came and told me I am not a victim. I have nothing. I feel terrible, so low.”
Only a handful of victims of forced labour have ever been formally identified by An Garda Síochána. There have been no prosecutions for this crime since the enactment of legislation in 2008. In contrast, the UK Home Office last week estimated that there may be up to 13,000 people in slavery in the UK.
“There is a need for an independent rapporteur to combat this heinous crime. An independent rapporteur could take forward the concerns of victims and help implement a proper system of identification, allowing victims to access the essential protections enshrined in EU and international law. We are hopeful that the IHREC can assist us in improving the situation of victims of slavery in Ireland,” concluded Ms O’Toole.
Aoife Murphy, MRCI Communications Officer 086 368 7901
Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has dealt with over 200 cases of forced labour in the last six and half years. It has referred 26 complaints to the Garda National Immigration Bureau of Trafficking for forced labour in the last 6 years. Only 8 of these have been formally identified as victims. Earlier this year, an MRCI report warned that Ireland could be imprisoning victims of forced labour for drug offences they were forced to commit.