Here are excerpts from Anna Lo’s speech in the Assembly today (subject to change on delivery): “I am grateful to the proposers for tabling a motion on an issue which has such importance and beg to move the amendment to further add and strengthen the motion in the areas of prevention of human trafficking, prosecution of those responsible and the protection of victims. The Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings and the 2011 EU Directive clearly outline a victim-centric approach which seeks to protect victims while calling for the implementation of effective policies and programmes to prevent trafficking and the need for increasing penalty levels.
“Human trafficking is the third most profitable illegal organised trade in the world today. It is a modern day slavery that generates profits from human suffering and represents a vulgar abuse of the fundamental human right of freedom. I welcome the recent news of the first conviction for human trafficking in Northern Ireland and commend all those involved in the process which brought about this conviction. I hope this serves as warning to all those currently involved in or facilitating human trafficking that they will be pursued by the full rigour of the law and our society will not tolerate such horrors.
“Human trafficking represents one of the greatest evils our society faces. Victims can be both male, female and children have also been identified as a victim of human trafficking in Northern Ireland.
“Through media reporting, the Blue Blind Fold campaign, public seminars, there is increasing recognition that human trafficking is a problem in Northern Ireland. We are not only a country of transit for human trafficking, acting as a point of access to our neighbours, but we have also become a destination country for this crime.
“According to various research recommendations the approach to tackling human trafficking can be dealt with two-fold. Firstly through prevention and secondly, where we fail to prevent, we need to prosecute those responsible and protect those rescued victims.
“The prevention of human trafficking is essential. Human trafficking represents a low risk-high profit trade, and like with any trade, supply and demand drive the process. We must eliminate the demand for sexual and labour exploitation in order to stop the supply of human beings as commodities. Section 15 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 which amends the Sexual Offences (NI) Order 2008, is a positive step in this regard as those who knowingly or unknowingly use trafficked prostitutes can be prosecuted.
“There needs to be more cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination so that known channels become blocked in order to stop the flow of vulnerable people to wealthy countries. Countries of destination should network more to share statistics, research and information.
“Prevention also comes from public awareness. While policies and strategies are important, the fight against human trafficking also occurs on the streets. In situations where members of the public are aware of illegal activity, such as suspecting a brothel in their local area, this must be reported to Crimestoppers or the police. While it may seem as if an individual is participating willingly in activities such as prostitution or illegal labour, it is often the case that they are in fear of violence by their traffickers, have been forced into debt or drug dependency and are under threat being deported or imprisoned. Public awareness is crucial. If you suspect, report.
“Once there is detection of human trafficking, we must ensure prosecution of those responsible and the protection of its victims.
“While I welcome the first conviction in Northern Ireland this weekend, the average sentence for human trafficking related charges in the UK is just 4.69years. It is often the case that fines and sentences against offenders cause little to damage such a lucrative trade. Article 19 of the 2011 EU Directive stipulates that Member States ‘shall take necessary measures to establish national rapporteurs or equivalent mechanisms’ in order to assess trends, gather statistics in close cooperation with civil society organisations and generate reports as well as measure effectiveness of anti-trafficking actions. Having recently attended a human trafficking conference in the Hague I was very impressed by the Dutch National Rapporteur which reports annually to Parliament.
“So that perpetrators can be brought to justice we need a well-equipped network of government organisations and NGOs in order to combat human trafficking and organised crime networks. There needs to be better partnership with NGOs and the voluntary and community sectors so that they can continue to work as the eyes and ears.
“The protection of victims of human trafficking is paramount. Victims have a minimum 45-day recovery and reflection period and once this is over and if they are not willing to co-operate as witnesses for prosecution they are deported. Firstly, this ‘reflection period’ is too short particularly given the fact many victims have been totally traumatised working in the sex industry and brutalised by their traffickers. Secondly, the deportation of victims of human trafficking re-victimises them. Returning a victim of human trafficking to their country of origin after they have been abused as slaves is inhumane and can often place them in serious danger or they may be ostracised upon return. Victims must be provided with medical, psychological, social or legal support and immigration advice.
“The rights of victims must be protected and promoted. Victims of sexual exploitation have suffered multiple rapes and abuses which is a violation of their rights, their freedom and their bodies. Trafficked individuals should be clearly identified as victims and should be considered for the right to remain so that they may receive robust support and rehabilitation and have access to claim compensation from their traffickers. While I understand immigration is not a devolved matter and the responsibility for their immigration status falls under the Home Office responsibilities, they constitute a very small number of people and would not open a flood gate of immigration. Trafficked victims should be treated as a special group as outlined by the Palermo Protocol and Council of Europe Convention.
“Our approach to human-trafficking must be a victim-centred one to make sure our response does not criminalise them. Removing the threat of imminent deportation would enable more victims to come forward and seek assistance.
“I have proposed an Assembly All Party Group on Human Trafficking, which will meet on 14th February. We hope the APG will collaborate and network with other jurisdictions in the rest of the UK and EU member states which have their own working groups.”