This week has been huge for trafficking-related news in Northern Ireland.
3 traffickers were arrested (2 were charged) in relation to forced labour in County Armagh which resulted in the recovery of 20 people – 14 men and 6 women – identified as potential* victims of trafficking.
Then, 2 Northern Irish men (from Limavady) were arrested in Banbridge in relation to their part in the Tilbury Docks case, in which a container of people being trafficked into the UK was found last week in Essex.
And then 2 more traffickers were arrested in Bangor and 3 women recovered from a suspected situation involving trafficking for sexual exploitation.
We don’t usually get this much news of trafficking in a month here. Something is happening, things are changing.
It’s worth noting that most of these operations are the result of months of investigation, and so there isn’t just ‘something in the water’ this week. The movement in Northern Ireland, involving progressive policing, legislative changes, awareness raising, professional training, people lifting the phone when seeing something suspicious, racism/inequality being addressed, communities coming together, intentional networking…all this has contributed to what has happened this week.
It’s also worth noting that the increase in numbers of people recovered and charged does not necessarily mean an increase in overall trafficking activity. It could mean, however, more community vigilance and police operations…which we should welcome. So, let’s hope for even higher numbers as 2014 progresses.
This reminds us that the work must be steady and always pushing forward, regardless of whether or not there are tangible ‘results’. Who knows what is setting the wheels into motion now for similar news to come in 6 months’ time.
It also reminds us that trafficking will always be surprising. Limavady, Banbridge, Bangor…these are not necessarily places we think of when we think of trafficking. Similarly, a majority of male victims busts the myth that trafficking only happens to women. And an investigation into forced labour in the Northern Irish food production industry is also shocking: trafficking is not just for sexual exploitation.
This week has been a huge week. It is involved such high highs, and also, behind the scenes, very low lows. Trafficking is hatefully devastating and has never been such an urgent problem to address properly. The fact that this week, we have rejoiced and also deeply struggled reminds me of the need for anguish if progress is to continue. We need to not sit and say ‘enough’ when this happens. There is more to be done. Any trafficking, anywhere, of any kind, to any person, is too much.
But it also reminds me of just how potent hope is in spurring us along. We need to hear these stories and see, again, that change is possible, so that we can push harder. I hope you’re encouraged at hearing the great news, and that you feel empowered to work towards more of the same with us.
*when we talk about ‘potential’ victims of trafficking, that is because they haven’t yet been through the National Referral Mechanism which is a UK-wide system used to formally identify someone as a victim of trafficking.