The government maintained victim protection efforts, but lacked specialized accommodation for female victims and had deficiencies in its victim identification, referral, and compensation process. Authorities identified 95 suspected trafficking victims in 2016, compared with 78 in 2015 and 46 in 2014. Of the victims identified in 2016, 52 were exploited in sex trafficking, 38 in labor trafficking, one in both sex and labor trafficking, and four in forced criminality in the selling of heroin; 50 were female and 45 were male. The increase in male victims compared to last year was driven by one case involving 23 Romanian male victims. Victims identified in 2016 in Ireland included 39 individuals from Romania, 19 Irish children, 10 from Nigeria, and the rest from Eastern Europe, Africa, South Asia, and South America. Seventy percent of victims were EU nationals.
Experts raised concerns about the government’s ability and efficiency to identify human trafficking victims and its efficiency in doing so. NGOs noted only non-European nationals are officially recognized by the government as suspected human trafficking victims. Observers reported concerns the existing identification system does not capture trafficking victims who are asylum-seekers. Asylum-seekers cannot be identified as victims of trafficking if they have an asylum proceeding pending and in general asylum-seekers are not permitted to work. NGOs reported the victim identification framework is lacking coherence, making it difficult for NGOs to work with the interagency on identifying victims. Due to deficiencies in the victim identification and referral process, the government continued reviewing the current system to identify areas for improvement and planned to examine a new model for victim identification and issue a revised national referral mechanism in 2017.
The current national referral mechanism requires victims be referred by law enforcement before shelter, health, and legal services can be provided. The government and NGOs provided victims with a wide range of services, including health services (physical and psychological), immigration, legal, accommodation, welfare and rent allowance, police assistance, residence permits, repatriation, translation and interpretation assistance, and access to education for dependent children. The government provided €275,000 ($289,779) to an NGO for assistance for sex trafficking victims, compared with €225,000 ($237,092) in 2015. The government also provided €41,428 ($43,654) to another NGO to assist labor trafficking victims, with a substantial increase from €9,564 ($10,078) in 2015. The government also provided €200,000 ($210,748) to five NGOs for vulnerable populations, including those more susceptible to trafficking.
According to the government, in practice, domestic and foreign victims have equal access to all state services. Experts, however, are of the view that victims who are European nationals (non-Irish citizens) were excluded from accessing social assistance support until they are granted an exemption of the Habitual Residence Condition. Although the government was responsive in emergency situations and provided short-term residency arrangements for victims, NGOs stated these accommodations in the direct provision system, a generally criticized system which have been established for asylum-seekers and were mixed-gender housing, had inadequate privacy, were unsuitable and potentially unsafe for traumatized victims, and undermined victim recovery. Experts also noted a lack of specialized services in the centers for female victims who have been traumatized due to psychological, physical, or sexual violence. In 2016, the government granted two trafficking victims a 60-day period of recovery and reflection, to recover and escape the influence of traffickers, and decide whether to assist law enforcement, during which victims were prohibited from working. Experts were concerned a potential victim must be identified by the police in order to avail of the 60-day recovery and reflection period. The government gives suspected foreign trafficking victims temporary relief from deportation, pending an investigation; police can request an extension of a temporary residence permit and extensions are granted by the immigration and naturalization service within 24-48 hours. Seven victims were granted a six-month temporary residence permit; two of these were granted a reflection period before receiving this permit and the remaining five victims received the permit without requiring a prior reflection period. In addition, three suspected trafficking victims were granted a change of status in immigration. The temporary protection can evolve into a permanent residency status in Ireland, and residency benefits are not linked to a successful conviction of the case. Experts, however, have noted gaps in the government’s immigration policies to protect undocumented migrants (including undocumented fisherman) who are vulnerable to trafficking. A labor focused NGO said a government’s immigration scheme launched in February 2016 for crew members of the Irish commercial sea-fishing fleets helped alleviate some of the concerns for undocumented fisherman but criticized the scheme as being specifically time bound and not available on a rolling basis.
Victims could obtain compensation through a court order, civil action, state bodies dealing specifically with work-related rights, and the criminal injuries compensation tribunal. NGOs, however, criticized the lack of viable avenues for victim compensation, particularly those involved in sex trafficking. The trafficking law did not protect victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. NGOs noted the process for victims to seek immunity from punishment from criminal activity as a result of their trafficking is complex and required early legal representation. If authorities prosecuted an individual before he or she is formally identified as a trafficking victim, the criminal record cannot be expunged. The national police revised their protocols and increased regional training on identifying trafficking in cannabis cultivation; the police began including a human trafficking specialist in teams conducting these arrests to ensure trafficking victims were identified as such.