By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON, Sept 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A growing number of people are trafficked to Ireland to work as slaves in farms, restaurants and car washes, said a European watchdog, criticising the housing of victims in asylum seeker centres that it said left them open to further exploitation.
The Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) said victims were housed in large reception centres mixing men and women instead of specialised units where they could be better catered for.
"Most countries would have a dedicated shelter with five, six places in all, (located) at a secret address and run by a specialised NGO. In Ireland this does not exist," said GRETA's executive secretary, Petya Nestorova.
Staff often didn't know which guests were trafficking victims and were generally not sensitised to their needs, the organisation said in a report on Wednesday.
"The mixing of men and women can expose vulnerable women to sexual harassment, grooming and exploitation," it added.
The situation had a knock-on effect on prosecutions as victims felt unprotected and therefore less inclined to cooperate with authorities, Nestorova said, noting that the number of convictions was very low.
"Victims could be much more reliable if they were taken care of in a better way," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Ireland's Department of Justice and Equality defended its accommodation system, saying it allowed all potential victims to be sheltered without delay, but added it will be reviewed.
Irish police identified more than 300 presumed victims of trafficking between 2012 and 2016, including 95 last year, the report said, adding more were likely to have gone undetected. Most were women and children.
European Union nationals made up the largest group followed by Irish citizens and people from Western Africa, particularly Nigeria.
Sexual exploitation was the most common form of slavery, accounting for about two thirds of victims, followed by labour exploitation, which was on the rise, the report said.
"Demand for workers, shortage of legal channels of migration and inconsistencies of the legal framework have contributed to the emergence of a large undocumented population in Ireland," the report said.
More than 40 million people were trapped as slaves last year in forced labour and forced marriages worldwide, according to landmark data published this week by the International Labour Organization, Walk Free Foundation and International Organization for Migration.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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