Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Committee Stage

Thursday, 23rd May 2013

I wanted to speak on section 1 but I will move on.

On section 4, I was fully supportive of the amendments from Sinn Féin. The House has ruled them out of order but perhaps they could be examined by the Minister and brought in by the Government because they are important.

The administrative arrangements for the protection of victims of human trafficking are set out in the Department of Justice and Equality’s policy statement, Administrative Immigration Arrangements for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking. Since this is the first time forced labour will be defined in Irish law, there has been no formal identification of victims as victims of trafficking for forced labour, and no prosecutions have been brought forward. Currently, when a victim leaves their exploitative workplace they are known as a potential victim of human trafficking and are granted, if required, hostel accommodation in direct provision centres and a weekly allowance of €19.10.

I do not need to elaborate further on this point other than to say the Minister of State is well aware of my concerns about the legality of the direct provision system and the payments under the administrative scheme. Potentially, victims are given basic access to health care and access to counselling for trauma, if necessary. Until the victim is formally identified by the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, on the basis of reasonable grounds, which is a relatively low test, as a person suspected of being a victim of human trafficking they are not entitled to a reflection and recovery period or a temporary residence permit. A reflection and recovery period is critical because it allows an alleged victim to recover and ensures the victim is not subject to removal proceedings. That has not been granted in any of the recent cases that have been worked on by Migrants Rights Centre Ireland. The victim is left with a tolerated status in the State but there are no specific timeframes of security that a reflection and recovery period or residence permit would give.

The difficulty is that it can take up to two years to get a decision to establish whether a person is a suspected victim of human trafficking. During this time the person is left in virtual limbo in a direct provision centre. The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland is dealing with six cases in which potential victims have been waiting for more than 18 months for a decision. I am not speaking about theory; I am speaking about six real cases. S is the victim of forced labour and trafficking who made an official complaint to the GNIB in August 2011. She is still waiting for a decision in her case. She lives in a direct provision hostel and her undocumented immigration status is tolerated and she will not be removed from the State. She suffers from poor health and is unable to afford the many trips to the hospital she requires and her medication.

I understand the immigration arrangements for the protection of victims of human trafficking will be put on a statutory footing in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 which is stalled on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Will the Minister of State confirm this and indicate to the House when the Bill will proceed? Is it the Government’s intention to bring its practice in line with our legal obligations as set out in a Council framework decision of 19 July 2002 – 11 years ago – on combating trafficking in human beings and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005? I asked these questions on Second Stage and I am asking them again because I am still waiting for an answer. The uncertainty of the timeframe for the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill is the reason I support Sinn Féin’s amendments to incorporate into the Bill the provisions of the anti-trafficking directive relevant to assisting, supporting and protecting victims of human trafficking. I will be interested to see the impact of the new definition of forced labour in Irish law on the forthcoming employment permits Bill which is in the legislative programme.

During the Second Stage debate I asked for the Minister of State’s assurance and the definition of forced labour as intended by the convention and as understood in international jurisprudence. With respect “offering oneself voluntarily” means fully informed and free consent throughout the worker’s service period. Will the Minister of State confirm that for the record? It is very important for those in the sector that this is the definition that is intended.

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