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Human Trafficking Bill is welcome but remains limited in its scope – Ó Caoláin

1 November, 2007

Speaking from the Dáil today on the Human Trafficking Bill Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that while there is much more that needs to be done to address the problem of human trafficking, he welcomed the long awaited elementary steps contained in this legislation

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Sinn Féin has been calling for this legislation for several years now and we will be supporting it, notwithstanding our concerns about its limitations. My colleague Deputy Ó Snodaigh has already outlined some of those concerns. In particular, we strongly disagree with the Minister's decision to exclude protection for victims of trafficking from the scope of this bill. It has become increasingly clear that the 'official' data on the number of persons trafficked to Ireland are grossly underestimating the real extent of the problem. These victims cannot wait until the Immigration Bill passes through the Houses.

"While there is no question that this legislation is needed, we must be realistic about what it can achieve. The vast majority of trafficking victims in this state are trafficked to the state - from another country where this law will not apply, and where the sanctions contained in this law will therefore have no deterrent effect. They will hopefully deter some of those who would be on the 'receiving' end of the trafficking chain in this state, and we support the sanctions on that basis. However, the likelihood is that this will simply divert the problem rather than preventing it. By focusing excessively on the criminal justice aspect of the problem, there is a danger that we are simply closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.

"The Minister, in his opening remarks, spoke of the different 'levels' on which human trafficking is being targeted. He omitted one aspect which I think is very important, and which his colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, touched upon last week in his response to a Parliamentary Question. The Minister said: 'The majority of people have no wish to uproot themselves from their communities, frequently leaving their families behind, to undertake often dangerous journeys to unknown and uncertain destinations. If people are provided with a minimum level of economic opportunity and the security provided by a functioning accountable Government and basic public services, they will choose to stay in their own countries, towns and villages.'

"In this instance the Minister was referring to asylum seekers, but similar can be said for many of those people who fall victim to human traffickers while trying to find employment. They are given the promise of work abroad, earning significantly more than they could in their home country, where life is a day-to-day struggle to provide for their family.

"There is also a clear link between abject poverty and child trafficking, as parents in dire circumstances - circumstances beyond our imagining - may come under extreme economic pressure to sell their own children. These children may end up as sex slaves, labourers, domestic servants, child soldiers and worse. Poverty is the underlying issue here and the prevention of human trafficking must start with real measures to address it.

"Ireland alone cannot resolve this problem, of course, but we could do much more to address it. We could play a constructive role in challenging the Structural Adjustment Programmes that leave developing countries in debt bondage to the West. We could lobby for power to be given to the United Nations Economic and Social Council to ensure fair regulation of the global economy. The Minister for Justice spoke of the need to take a 'holistic' approach to trafficking, and I agree with him. But a truly holistic approach would begin with a genuine effort to eradicate the negative factors that lead people to leave their homes in the first place." CRÍOCH

"Traffickers have made use of our immigration laws to provide a means by which the victims could enter the country - and a means to bind them to their abusive employers. There is a tendency for these workers to be overlooked when the subject of trafficking is discussed. They may be seen simply as victims of labour exploitation. There must be no exclusion of these workers from the protections that are made available to trafficking victims.

"I also call on the Government to strengthen its efforts in the fight against labour exploitation. The recent decision to opt out of an EU directive penalising employers who knowingly hire trafficking victims, or who repeatedly violate fair employment practices or are particularly exploitative, is extremely disappointing. That it was done at the behest of IBEC, who complained about the "bureaucracy" that companies would be subjected to, is nothing short of reprehensible.

"So while there is much more that needs to be done to address the problem of human trafficking, I do welcome the fact that we are at last taking the elementary steps contained in this legislation. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues consider the other issues that I have raised so that we can work toward developing a truly holistic approach. I will conclude by asking the Minister once more to please reconsider the decision to delay the introduction of protection measures for trafficking victims. It is a crucial element in fighting trafficking and in helping to restore the dignity and human rights of those men, women and children abused by this terrible crime." CRÍOCH

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