Ireland highlighted in State Department human trafficking report

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Ireland received its lowest rating ever by the U.S. State Department for its efforts to combat human trafficking, in the agency’s annual trafficking report released on Thursday.

The 2020 Trafficking-in-Persons (TIP) report listed Ireland on the “Tier 2 Watch List” of countries, just one step above the department’s Tier 3 rating reserved for countries with worst records in fighting human trafficking.

Ireland, the report said, failed to meet the State Department’s “minimum” standard of combating trafficking, lacking sufficient support for victims and protection for undocumented workers in the fishing industry.

“It’s a very disappointing rating but telling,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), author of the law that created the TIP report and member of the ad hoc congressional committee for Irish affairs. Smith noted that Ireland has not had any trafficking convictions since 2013.

The TIP report, released on Thursday, is an annual report of the State Department as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The landmark 2000 law set up the office at State to combat human trafficking around the world

“There are 25 million adults and children suffering from labor and sex trafficking worldwide,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday.

“That desecration of the inherent value and immeasurable worth of human beings, each of us created in the image of God, makes human trafficking a truly wicked act,” he said.

Pompeo also singled out several countries listed as Tier 3, the worst ranking in the tier system, for their forced labor practices.

Chinese citizens work “in horrendous conditions on Belt and Road projects,” Pompeo said, while Central Asian countries are using forced labor in their cotton industries and Cuba has put 50,000 doctors “into human trafficking situations in more than 60 countries around the globe.”

However, the report also criticizes U.S. allies such as Ireland and Hong Kong, Smith said, making it “a tough but fair report.” Smith said. While it noted the “growing” problem of forced labor in Ireland, it also listed Hong Kong on the Tier 2 Watch List.

The report also addresses certain common trafficking problems worldwide, including more than 1,000 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers, between the years of 2007 to 2019 in countries such as Haiti, Central African Republic, and Liberia.

Young, poor, aspiring professional athletes are also exploited by agents with connections to traffickers, the report notes. They can be persuaded into signing unfavorable contracts with kickbacks or extorted through “debt-based coercion.” There are an estimated 15,000 trafficking victims in European soccer.

Pompeo noted some positive trends on Thursday, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where 13 countries were upgraded by the agency’s tier rankings including Namibia, the first African country to be rated as a Tier 1 country since 2012.

The agency praised ten “heroes” of the report including Sophie Otiende, a trafficking survivor who has helped more than 400 victims through the group Awareness Against Human Trafficking in Kenya.

Otiende said it took her 15 years to properly name the abuse she suffered. “Human trafficking is a relatively new term for something very old,” she said, noting that “[w]hether we call it slavery, servitude, debt bondage, or trafficking matters little to its victims.”

However, she said it was “empowering” when she finally named the crime. Otiende used her experience to help other survivors, including a group of Kenyan women held in domestic servitude. One of the women, she said, eventually started her own business, lost the business due to the recent pandemic, and is being supported by Otiende’s group.

“Her example also underlines that we need to be proactive and vigilant to protect and assist those at risk of human trafficking as well as survivors, who are particularly affected by this pandemic,” Otiende said.