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Government must sign International Convention for protection of migrant workers – Ó Snodaigh

17 November, 2009 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD


Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has expressed broad support for a Dáil Private Members Motion this evening which calls for effective measures to combat human trafficking. However Deputy Ó Snodaigh said the motion in many respects does not go far enough.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh went on to call on the Government to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

He said:

“Sinn Féin broadly supports the Fine Gael motion. In many respects it does not go far enough in demanding the introduction of real, effective measures to combat human trafficking and to protect the victims of this odious crime.

“The Fine Gael motion appears at times to assume that all human trafficking is sex trafficking. I am sure that is not the intention because it is widely known now that that is not the case. Around the globe, and undoubtedly in Ireland, there are significant numbers of people trafficked to work in the domestic sector, in the agriculture and catering industries. I commend the Migrant Rights Centre for the excellent work it has done in exposing these practices, but the extent of trafficking for forced labour is still under-recognised.

“The Government could take a significant step toward ending this practice by signing and ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. This has been in force since June 2003 and is the only one of the core UN human rights treaties that this state has not signed. In defending its refusal to sign, the Government continues to hide behind the Common Travel Area, although anyone who has tried to enter this state from Britain in the past six or seven years knows that the Common Travel Area is dead in the water anyway.

“Greater attention also needs to be paid to the trafficking of children not only for sexual exploitation and forced labour but also for begging and petty theft. The International Organization for Migration has noted a marked increase in this problem across Europe in recent years.” ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s speech follows:

Sinn Féin broadly supports the Fine Gael motion. In many respects it does not go far enough in demanding the introduction of real, effective measures to combat human trafficking and to protect the victims of this odious crime.

The Government’s predictably self-congratulatory amendment makes reference to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. This state hasn’t even ratified that Convention, and there’s nothing in the Government amendment suggesting that it plans to. Just as we were the last EU state to make human trafficking an offence, we are now lagging behind the 26 other Council of Europe members that have already ratified the Convention. It is a shameful distinction and one that the Government should reverse immediately.

I welcome the plans to extend the recovery period to 60 days, up from the 45 days currently provided for in the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill. I note that Deputy Naughton’s committee stage amendments called for a 90-day period although that is not reflected in the Fine Gael motion. The amendment that Deputy McGrath submitted in my name called for it to be extended to six months and I repeat that call here. When someone has been through such a traumatic experience it is simply unrealistic to expect them to recover from it quickly. 60 days is an improvement on 45 but it is still insufficient if the aim is to provide genuine assistance to these victims.

By the same token, it is crucial that the recovery period not be made dependent on co-operation with the Gardaí. Many victims are simply too traumatised and often they may have genuine and understandable fears about co-operating with the police due to the nature of policing in their home countries. There is also a real risk in some cases that co-operation could put themselves or their families in danger. Traffickers often keep their victims “in line” by means of threats to their families, or to themselves if they ever return home. There are also young people trafficked by family members or family friends who exercise authority over them which, due to cultural factors, the young person may not feel able to defy. There are any number of reasons why a trafficking victim may not co-operate with police but this does not negate their human right to a recovery period. This is made clear in the Convention, which states that the personal situation of the victim should also be taken into account. It was also noted by the Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings, established by the EU Commission in 2003, which advised that “those trafficked persons who do not wish to testify as witnesses – or are not required as witnesses, because they possess no relevant information or because the perpetrators cannot be taken into custody in the destination country – require equally adequate protection and assistance as victim-witnesses”.

Recovery should be a central objective of government policy in this area. The National Action Plan, referred to in the amendment, is very weak on supports for trafficking victims. In many cases these people have been raped, beaten, tortured and abused. It is unclear how their needs for legal assistance, safe and secure housing, social supports, interpretation and translation and counselling and suitable medical care are to be met. This assistance must be provided to victims, and it must be provided regardless of their willingness to act as a witness in any proceedings against those responsible for their trafficking.

It also needs to be pointed out that human trafficking can encompass a wide range of forced activities. The Fine Gael motion appears at times to assume that all human trafficking is sex trafficking. I am sure that is not the intention because it is widely known now that that is not the case. Around the globe, and undoubtedly in Ireland, there are significant numbers of people trafficked to work in the domestic sector, in the agriculture and catering industries. I commend the Migrant Rights Centre for the excellent work it has done in exposing these practices, but the extent of trafficking for forced labour is still under-recognised. The head of the British Human Trafficking Centre, North Yorkshire Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, has recently stated that there are, in fact, more people trafficked for labour exploitation than for sexual exploitation. Whether or not that is the case here is a question that I do not know the answer to but as long this type of trafficking is overlooked there will clearly be many, many cases that go undetected and with dire consequences for its victims.

The Government could take a significant step toward ending this practice by signing and ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. This has been in force since June 2003 and is the only one of the core UN human rights treaties that this state has not signed. In defending its refusal to sign, the Government continues to hide behind the Common Travel Area, although anyone who has tried to enter this state from Britain in the past six or seven years knows that the Common Travel Area is dead in the water anyway.

Greater attention also needs to be paid to the trafficking of children not only for sexual exploitation and forced labour but also for begging and petty theft. The International Organization for Migration has noted a marked increase in this problem across Europe in recent years. A report published by the Swedish National Criminal Police earlier this year described how what appears to be a family unit consisting of two adults and two to three children will travel from country to country, with the children being sent out to do the begging or stealing because they can usually avoid prosecution. The report notes that “the children are trained from an early age…not to co-operate with the authorities” which reinforces the point I made earlier about the need to separate co-operation from the granting of a recovery period. Again, the extent of this type of trafficking in this state is unclear but it merits investigation – particularly in view of the unfortunate comments recently made by a judge about certain parents “raising their children to steal”. There are children being raised to steal, undoubtedly, but it may not be their parents doing the raising.

Finally, I would remind the Minister of a reply he gave to a Parliamentary Question back when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs. He stated that “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.” He was referring to asylum seekers in this PQ but the same undoubtedly applies to many trafficked persons. They choose to migrate because of the lack of alternatives available to them at home and, because of the lack of options for safe and legal migration, they fall victim to trafficking. When forced to return home they are often re-trafficked because the underlying conditions that caused them to leave in the first place have not been addressed. In that regard, the Government’s plan to cut Irish Aid in the budget is truly regrettable. It will undoubtedly lead to worsened conditions in many of the source countries for human trafficking and, in turn, will result in an increase in the number of trafficking victims, here and abroad. It is yet another example of how the government’s short-sighted approach to policy-making simply creates greater problems down the line. I strongly urge the government to revisit that decision and to take on board the recommendations in the Fine Gael motion, particularly in relation to the treatment of those known or suspected to be victims of human trafficking.

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