Today is Anti-Slavery Day and PSNI’s Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) has been carrying out a number of operations in criminal, sexual and labour exploitation throughout the week to highlight this often unseen crime and keep people safe.
Last year, 36 potential victims of human trafficking were identified in Northern Ireland and referred to the National Crime Agency but the actual number of people in Northern Ireland affected by the crime is unknown as it often goes unreported and undetected within the community.
Speaking from an operation at George Best Belfast City Airport, Head of PSNI’s MSHTU Detective Chief Inspector Mark Bell (pictured below) 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 to meet flights coming in and out, raise awareness of the crime and highlight the signs to look out for.
“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 aware of the tell-tale signs and to help stop this unacceptable crime.”
Tell-tale signs that someone is a victim of modern slavery vary depending on the type of exploitation.
Signs of sexual exploitation to look out for include:
• A high turnover of female occupants being dropped off at the same property with little luggage during irregular hours on a regular basis
• Evidence of a person’s movement being controlled, for example, females who are escorted everywhere they go
• A person who has visible injuries including bruising and they may appear not to speak English
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
• People who aren’t paid for their work, don’t have a working contract or don’t have control of or access to their lawful earnings
In addition, further signs which are common across all forms of modern slavery include:
• 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
• An over-crowded house or flat
• Someone who may not have cash as they don’t get to keep the money that they earn
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Bell continued: “Modern slavery is a priority for the PSNI and Anti -Slavery week offers a real opportunity to highlight the issue and to raise awareness of the PSNI’s dedicated Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit. Every day is anti-slavery day for my team. We are here to help 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.”