Kevin Hyland: Ireland's historical link with human trafficking and what can be done about it

Kevin Hyland: Ireland's historical link with human trafficking and what can be done about it

The human trafficking crisis is the result of several crises faced by the world today.

Extreme poverty means the only commodity a person might have is their children.

Global warming means that crops which used to thrive are now dying and whole families may become displaced and become products for traffickers. And the same is true for people fleeing war.

Speaking to us here at The Irish Post, former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland tells of the connection between Ireland's history and what is happening in slavery and human trafficking today.

“In a way history is being repeated,” Mr Hyland, Irish Member to the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), says.

“During the famine, 1.2 million Irish people ended up going through Liverpool, and the reports show they were living in squalor and being exploited, and then they ended up in coffin ships.

“These days, if you’re identified as a victim of Human Trafficking in Ireland, you’re put into [immigration asylum system] Direct Provision.

“A woman who has been trafficked for sexual exploitation and who has been raped or sexually abused is placed in Direct Provision in amongst men, in amongst strangers, potentially in amongst her traffickers.”

“A lot of people think Human Trafficking is something that happens on the other side of the world, but it is a serious issue in Ireland and the response is nothing close to what it needs to be.”

Irish emigrants boarded 'coffin ships' in the 1800s seeking a new life away from poverty

“This is part of Irish history,” he continues.

“Just look at St Patrick—he was trafficked to Ireland from Britain and sold into slavery.

"St Patrick’s Day should be about remembering that this issue has come back.

“Ireland’s ability to be known around the world when it’s such a small nation is second to none. Why not use that ability, that diplomacy and that welcoming hand in order to take on a global issue? It could really put Ireland out there as a leading nation.

“St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. In his name we could drive the new snakes out of Ireland—the traffickers.

“We could drive the snakes not just off the face of the country but off the face of the planet.

So what should the Irish government be doing to achieve this? Training members of agencies that are likely to come into contact with victims of human trafficking is integral, Mr Hyland says, citing Gardaí, local authorities, and transport companies as examples.

The government also needs to introduce a policy to prevent the slave trade from profiting off Irish people—which is what is currently happening.

“[Chemical element] Cobalt is in our mobile phones and it is being mined by children in Africa,” Mr Hyland reveals.

“We need to ask the government, ‘Why are you allowing our money to be spent on trafficking?’ The Irish government need to do more to ensure that tax payers’ money is not ending up in the hands of slavery, no matter where in the world it is happening.

“Cobalt is in every battery we use. Ireland wants to have carbon-free emissions and I support that, but it means there’s going to be a growth in demand for batteries and we need to ensure that doesn’t lead to a growth in the number of children in mines.

“We don’t want climate improvement to mean worse conditions for children, or people dying in mines.

“The US has just banned the import of plastic gloves from Malaysia,” he says, “because there is forced labour in the supply chain.

“How shocking would it be if the clothes being worn by our defence forces or police in Ireland were found to come from forced labour?

"NHS uniforms in the UK were found to come from forced labour. Fish in supermarkets in the UK came from forced labour.

“So I can’t see how it couldn’t be happening in Ireland as well.

And what can the everyday Irish citizen do to spot modern slavery?

“People need to call on their police or local authorities if it seems new businesses such as nail bars or car washes are not adhering to health and safety legislations,” he says.

“When my father was in the UK in the 50’s the construction sites were dangerous. And now they’re very safe—you must have hard hats, yellow jackets, steel boots—it’s a different place.

“Look within your own working environments. If there’s something that doesn’t look right, raise it with the company. Try and get to the bottom of it. Be aware of what’s going on around you.

“People need to realise that if someone is being exploited, this is a crime which holds life imprisonment. This is a really serious crime. It’s not a small administration error or bad employment situation. It’s trafficking and exploitation.

If you’re a part of a community action network start bringing this in and educating people on what to look out for. Talk about it. Be aware of it. Ask your political leaders what they are doing about this.

“I understand that people are busy, they’re living their lives. They won’t all become campaigners, but they need to ensure their environment or workplace doesn’t benefit human trafficking.

“Just like you wouldn’t want to enable a child abuser or rapist or another violent criminal, you need to start looking at human trafficking in the same way.

“If you think ‘there’s a house on my road with eight people living in it and they go to work together in a car and they all come back late and they look worn out and they’re from another part of the world, start to think about them.

“Ask yourself, ‘Are they being trafficked or exploited?’ and then contact the police.

“You can do it anonymously, you can call Crimestoppers. Just tell someone so that something can be done.

But can things really change? Can people speaking up make a difference? Mr Hyland is positive they can.

"When I started in the police 30 years ago, domestic violence was very much behind closed doors.

“It’s the same with child abuse in Ireland. Turn the clock back 40 years and it apparently didn’t exist. Now it’s estimated that 1 in 5 children experience a form of abuse.

“Now that there’s an awareness and understanding around it, Ireland has some of the best policies in the world for child safeguarding. It’s now mandated that if you think something is going on with child abuse you must contact the authorities.

"We need to do that about human trafficking.  An international assessment of Ireland estimated there to be 7,000 people being exploited.

"Ireland rescued 64 people last year-- so if you accept that estimation of 7,000, we’re a very long way from where we need to be.

“The State will say that they think that number is an exaggeration. But just this morning I had an email from somebody who has three potential cases.

“Now other cases which were rejected by the system in Ireland need to be re-referred.

“They’re not being ambitious enough.

“But sadly, sometimes we never learn by experience.”

As for the high-profile case of the Essex tragedy in late October, in which 39 Vietnamese nationals were found dead in the back of a lorry which had come via Northern Ireland, Mr Hyland thinks people are not looking at solutions in the right way.

“Many people default to thinking that we need better borders,” Mr Hyland says.

“But where is that border going to be? Is it going to be in the East coast of England? Is it going to be in the Channel? They’ve already come thousands of miles before they hit this border.

“It’s not about borders, it’s about the criminals who operate this.

“We need to go right back to the source.

“We need to put time into education and we need to pursue the criminals.

Mr Hyland resigned as the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner in 2018, citing government interference in his role as part of his decision.

The Home Office found that his report, Combating Modern Slavery Experienced by Vietnamese Nationals En-route to, and Within, the UK, contained ‘disproportionate criticism’ of the agencies responsible to combat the problem.

“The Home Office said it was ‘disproportionate criticism’, but I was very factual,” Mr Hyland says.

“The report was based on evidence and reports-- it was their response which was terrible. I think it needs to be subject to an inquiry or reviewed by a parliamentary committee.

Let’s be clear: the response that the Home Office had to that report is nothing short of failure. It showed a high degree of arrogance.

Now look at the consequences.”