Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Police save 11 from trafficking

Many trafficking victims are forced into prostitution
Many trafficking victims are forced into prostitution

Police in Northern Ireland have rescued 11 people from human traffickers in the past year.

New support services are being launched on Wednesday to help victims of international trafficking gangs.

It is being jointly funded by the government and the PSNI. Among the benefits will be secure accommodation, counselling and health care.

It will also provide assistance with living expenses and full access to legal advice and translation services.

Security Minister Paul Goggins said NI was "no longer immune from the vile crime of human trafficking".

"We are committed to supporting the victims of human trafficking and the measures that I am introducing will deliver a victim-led and comprehensive package of care and support services.

"The welfare of victims rescued from this vile trade will be given the highest priority.

"The new and extensive system of expert support that we are putting in place will help victims recover and rebuild their lives," Mr Goggins said.

Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said traffickers were targeting "females in sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe or the Far East with the promise of a far better life".

Security minister Paul Goggins and Director of the Women"s Aid Federation, Annie Campbell
Paul Goggins and Annie Campbell said NI was no longer immune from trafficking

"When they are actually brought here they are forced into prostitution," he said.

"We can expect that this will be a continuing problem for us because the profits involved and the criminal networks that are involved see this as a very lucrative business."

He added that people should be aware that trafficked women could essentially be imprisoned in brothels near them.

"People could have a brothel quite close to them and they should be aware of that, that it could actually be one of these brothels with women in it in the most awful circumstances in sexual servitude," he said.

Annie Campbell of the Women's Aid Federation said that when they had raised the issue of trafficking in the past they had been met with disbelief, but that women who had escaped from trafficking had been coming to them with "horrendous stories".

"They have really been forced to endure what is a 21st century version of slavery," she said.

As well as women being forced into the sex industry there is also the illegal movement and exploitation of workers.

Mike Emberson of the Migrant Helpline said with the economic downturn this may get worse.

"There is a body of opinion which says people will increasingly turn to the black market to drive down costs and we'll see many more gangs of exploited workers coming in," he said.

He said that the hope was that Northern Ireland would become too difficult for traffickers to target.

The new services will be fully operational by 1 April.

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