PSNI support Anti-Slavery Day, raising awareness of the hidden crime that is on the increase

  • 18 October 2019

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Today is Anti-Slavery Day and detectives from PSNI’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) have been carrying out a number of operations targeting criminal, sexual and labour exploitation to highlight this often unseen crime and keep people safe.
Some of the operations involve detectives meeting flights coming in and out of the airport, screening for potential victims who are being trafficked and raising awareness of the signs to look out for with the public. Proactive operations such as this are conducted throughout the year by officers and in the past six and a half months, almost as many potential victims of human trafficking have been identified in Northern Ireland as were identified in the whole of the previous financial year.
Speaking from George Best Belfast City Airport, Detective Inspector Mark Bell from PSNI’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit said: “Modern slavery is often an unseen crime as victims can be afraid to speak out or may be being held captive. Victims may be trafficked in from other countries and may have language barriers which prevent them from communicating with police or others who could help.  The airport may be the first place in Northern Ireland that some victims step foot on and other victims may be being moved through the airport and on to another destination. We are here today to meet flights coming in and out, raise awareness of the crime and highlight the signs to look out for.
“Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking is one of the fastest growing crime types in the UK and this is reflected in the statistics that we are seeing here.  In the past six and a half months of this financial year, 54 potential victims have already been identified in Northern Ireland and referred to through the National Referral Mechanism. This is a sharp increase as 59 potential victims of human trafficking were identified during the whole of the last financial year.
“Many potential victims have been identified as a result of our proactive operations so the actual number of people in Northern Ireland affected by the crime is unknown as it often goes unreported and undetected within the community. This is why operations such as this one today are so important. We will continue to proactively look to identify any potential victims and speak to the public about the signs that they should be looking for.
“Last year, we found that labour exploitation was the most common form of exploitation. This despicable crime means that people are forced to work, often carrying out hard labour or working in appalling conditions. Most of the time, the victims are forced to carry out this work or receive little or no payment for their efforts. The signs of labour exploitation to look out for include someone working against their will, people living and sleeping in their place of work in a group and rarely leaving those premises and people who aren’t paid for their work, don’t have a working contract or don’t have control of or access to their earnings.
“As well as labour exploitation, there are many different reasons why victims are trafficked including for sexual exploitation or forcing someone to perform work that is either legal or illegal, such as forced begging, cannabis cultivation or drug dealing. Tell-tale signs that someone is a victim of modern slavery vary depending on the type of exploitation but there are things to look out for which are common across all forms of modern slavery. This includes:
•             Someone who can’t produce their passport or personal documents
•             Someone who is unsure of their home address or the local area
•             Someone who is distrustful of authorities as traffickers may have told victims that police will be violent towards them
•             Someone who has no access to medical treatment
•             Someone who appears to be under the control of others or always has someone else speak on their behalf
•             An over-crowded house or flat with a regular turnover of new occupants
•             Someone who may not have cash as they don’t get to keep the money that they earn

Detective Inspector Mark Bell continued: “Modern slavery denies victims their human right to life, safety and freedom. The criminals prey on vulnerable people, control them by fear and exploit them for their own selfish gains. I’m asking everyone in our local communities to be our eyes and ears and help stop this unacceptable crime.
“Modern slavery is a priority for the PSNI and we will investigate any incident and take action where there is sufficient evidence. We are working as hard as we can but we cannot tackle this problem alone. We rely on the strong partnerships that have been formed through the Department of Justice Organised Crime Task Force. Working closely with partners in An Garda Siochana, National Crime Agency, Public Prosecution Service, Immigration Enforcement, Border Force, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Custom and the Health and Safety Executive, we have recovered victims from exploitation in car washes, food manufacturing and processing factories and brothels to name a few. Many charities also play a really important role in assisting and supporting victims to rebuild their lives.
“I would urge people to visit the Human Trafficking page on PSNI’s website for more information on the signs to look out for. I would also ask people to help stop this unacceptable crime and contact us with any suspicions that they may have by calling 999 if it’s an emergency, 101 or the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. One call could end the misery for a victim who could be living next door to you.”


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