On the 30th June I decided that I’d make a documentary on human trafficking in Northern Ireland. How hard could it be?

As it turns out, it is actually quite had to make a documentary by yourself when you’re an amateur like I am. This was possibly best epitomised by the fact that I went to do an interview with the PSNI, only to find out that I’d forgotten my recording device. Great start eh?!

I’ve now decided to turn the documentary into a mini-series that I hope will probe into finding out just how much we know about human trafficking in Northern Ireland. How do the PSNI tackle human trafficking and do they have the adequate resources? Are paramilitaries involved in human trafficking? How will Lord Morrow’s (DUP) Assembly Private Members Bill affect human trafficking in Northern Ireland.

These are just some of the issues which I have tried to seek answers to during the past two months, however before they can be fully answered, it’s important to have a clear definition of what exactly Human Trafficking actually is.

Human trafficking is the illegal movement of people. It’s a form of modern day slavery and the two most prevalent forms of human trafficking in Northern Ireland are trafficking for labour exploitation and sexual trafficking, there is also an ‘unknown exploitation’ category and worryingly almost half of the minors that were referred to the NRM in 2013 fit into this category.

The figures for Northern Ireland paint a bleak picture; the year 2013 saw a 125% increase in the number of potential adult victims trafficked for labour exploitation and a 57% increase in number of potential adult victims subject to trafficking for sexual exploitation.

To quantify this, the NRM received 41 referrals of potential victims of trafficking first encountered in Northern Ireland which represents a 173% increase on 2012 referral totals and is 2% of all UK referrals to the NRM.

The 41 referrals were comprised of 25 females and 16 males, with 21 referred for adult exploitation categories and 20 being referred for minor exploitation types. This means that just under half of the potential victims of trafficking in 2013 are minors.

The government has attempted to identify victims of human trafficking, and ensure that victims receive appropriate protection and support through the creation of the National Referral Mechnaism (NRM). The framework was established by the Government in 2009 and ensures that the government meets their legal obligations under the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Human Trafficking.

To be referred to the NRM, potential victims of trafficking must first be referred to one of the UK’s two competent authorities – the UKHTC or UK Border Agency. This initial referral will generally be handled by an authorised agency, known as a First Responder. In Northern Ireland some of the First Responders are the PSNI, Migrant Help, and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

However, often NRM statistics are talked about as only being the tip of the iceberg as NRM figures don’t give any indication as to how many victims are moved across the porous border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and by the very nature of human trafficking, not only is it a hidden crime but it is an extremely rapid crime in which where victims are moved often.

To find out how the PSNI tackle human trafficking I met up with Noel Mullan who is now in charge of tackling human trafficking as he recently took over from Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall.


To date there have only been three convictions of those charged with human trafficking, with the first successful conviction only in early 2012 and not a single person has been convicted under the current legislation that details that it is illegal to purchase the services of a trafficked victim. When I met with Lord Morrow, he told me that one reason for this is simply because the PSNI do not have the knowledge to tackle human trafficking.


I put this charge to the PSNI


The next article in this series will look at whether or not there is enough North/South cooperation on human trafficking and the role of paramilitaries in facilitating human trafficking.

Paul Wyatt

Paul Wyatt is one of the founding scoop members. As one of our on-the-ground reporters, Paul reports on anything and everything happening in Queen's, the greater Belfast area, and beyond.

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