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Category Archives: Migration

Comparing “trafficking” statistics: why it’s a waste of time

I thought it might be useful to make a simple chart to demonstrate why it’s meaningless to claim that one country has more trafficking than another, based on their official statistics. Seeing as this comes up all the time.

You can click on it to enlarge:

Trafficking definitions

There are a few explanations and disclaimers I need to get in:

  1. The chart is based on my own interpretation of each country’s laws. There is undoubtedly scope for disagreement in some of the details – but not, I believe, on the overall picture.
  2. The big centre column refers to adult trafficking only. I included an age qualifier for Germany because its law treats 18 to 21 year old adults as children.
  3. For “Elements of Trafficking”, I’ve used the three-part schema derived from Article 3(a) of the UN Trafficking Protocol. The headers are a common shorthand and are not to be interpreted literally (“control” doesn’t only mean actual control but can include deception, for example).
  4. Even within a single element, definitions can vary widely; eg, in the UK the “movement” element strictly requires travel, while the Irish definition adheres more closely to the broader Protocol criteria.
  5. Finally and most importantly, the chart reflects what the law actually says – not necessarily how it’s interpreted in practice. It’s theoretically possible that the reporting bodies in each country actually apply a more uniform definition in the process of collecting statistics. But that’s for the people who put faith in the official stats to demonstrate – and to my knowledge, not one of them has done so.

All that said, I think this chart makes one thing crystal clear: when countries tally up their “trafficking” figures, they aren’t necessarily counting the same thing. And unless these distinctions are controlled for in comparative studies, which they haven’t been so far, the evidential value of those studies is pretty close to nil.

 

Sources:

Ireland – Criminal Law (Human Trafficking Act) 2008

UK – Sexual Offences Act 2003

Sweden – Chapter 4 § 1 a of the Penal Code (2010:371) as translated in this Swedish police report

Germany – §232 StGB Criminal Code (original German here; translations courtesy of Ralph in this comment, Sonja Dolinsek of Menschenhandel Heute and Google Translate)

Netherlands – Article 273f of the Criminal Code

Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police

I’ve commented several times that what the Swedes say internally about their sex industry is often very different to the impression they give abroad, when trying to export the sex purchase ban. This is a good recent(ish) example, a press statement from their police service website – only issued in Swedish – which, run through Google Translate, reveals something interesting about police knowledge of the sex trade:

Most of the sex trade [is] currently conducted via the internet. None of the inspecting authorities have a complete picture of the scope as they are not engaged in continuous or structured reconnaissance.*

It’s an interesting contrast with the claims we normally hear from the Swedes, which exude absolute confidence and certainty that their sex industry has declined since clients were criminalised. Self-evidently, if you aren’t monitoring something in a consistent and coherent fashion, you can’t reach a definitive conclusion as to whether or not it has declined.

The police do monitor the sex industry to some degree, of course, and their findings are included every year in a document titled Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes. The English version of the latest report was published last May, and covers the year 2011. While that makes it slightly out of date at this point, it’s still more than a decade after the sex purchase ban was introduced, and therefore useful in helping to determine whether the law’s objectives really have been met.

Section 3.1 covers “Trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes”, and it starts off by hedging the statistics with the following disclaimer:

 According to the Swedish National Police Board it is difficult to estimate how many people fell victim to human trafficking in Sweden during 2011. The number of victims of human trafficking identified in Sweden largely depends on the resources which the police put into detecting this crime and on the experience and competence that exists within the police organisation. The level of these initiatives varies between police authorities and can vary from one year to another. It is not possible to identify or even to locate all of the victims, mainly girls and women, mentioned in tapped telephone calls or observed during police surveillance.

There’d be nothing remarkable about this paragraph, were it not for the fact that it entirely contradicts one of the lines the Swedes often use when trying to sell the sex purchase ban abroad: “if the customers could find these persons, we could find them”. That line is intended to refute the suggestion that the sex industry has merely gone underground; but the text quoted above (and similar elsewhere in this report) is an open admission that some of it is underground and will probably remain there. And this, bear in mind, refers only to those believed to be victims of trafficking; if they admittedly can’t estimate those numbers, it’s hardly possible they could estimate the numbers of people selling sex through choice or circumstance, who (one hopes) they aren’t expending as much of their resources to find.

While the report quite rightly attributes some of the increase in numbers to better investigative work, it also indicates a belief that at least some of the increase represents more actual cases. For example, describing an apparent rise in the number of “women from Lithuania who are being exploited in prostitution in Sweden”, the report says:

Changes in the victims’ backgrounds and nationalities can be explained by a weakened national socio-economic climate which is hitting women and girls particularly badly. The economic crisis in southern Europe may also mean that human traffickers and pimps are directing their activities towards countries with more stable economies, such as Sweden.

These two statements may seem somewhat at odds with each other – the first suggests that the numbers are increasing because Sweden’s economy is getting worse [ETA – see comments below from Laura Agustín], while the second suggests that it’s because Sweden’s economy is relatively stable – but the important points are this: first, the tacit acknowledgment (made explicit later in the report) that there has been an increase at all; and second, the admission that Sweden remains attractive to “human traffickers and pimps”, which is totally contrary to the propaganda we hear about it all. the. time.

A genuine jaw-dropper follows a few paragraphs later:

In 2009, the National Bureau of Investigation estimated that there were about 90 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and vicinity, most of which were judged to be offering sexual services for sale. At the turn of 2011/2012, the number of Thai massage parlours in the Stockholm area was estimated to be about 250 and throughout the country about 450.

Now, what kind of “successful ban” leads to an almost threefold increase in one type of provider of the banned thing in less than three years? If the estimate is accurate, this statistic alone ought to put paid to any claim that the law is an effective deterrent. An industry that has lost a lot of its customers couldn’t possibly expand at a rate like that.  (See previous post on this topic here.)

The report goes on to shed an interesting light on the Swedish view of sex workers who choose their occupation – in particular, those who aren’t from Sweden. It states:

In February 2011, the police authority in the county of Halland decided to deport a Romanian woman … . Police authorities said that the woman, who made her living through prostitution, constituted a threat to public order and security. The woman appealed to the Swedish Migration Board who made the same assessment as the police authority in Halland: namely that prostitution is indeed legal in Sweden, but the purchase of sexual services is a criminal offence. This means in practice that a crime has to be committed under Swedish law to enable a person engaged in prostitution to support themselves.

This decision was ultimately thrown out in court as a breach of EU freedom of movement, but subsequently the Justice Ombudsman, considering the case of another EU sex worker, upheld the Migration Board’s position:

“…prostitution is to be regarded as a dishonest means of support according to the law. Prostitution – which can not occur without a crime having been committed – may also be considered as a prohibited occurrence in one principal element. Unlike the judgement in a previous determination by the Ombudsman for Justice, which related to begging, deportation in this case is considered to be compatible with the Aliens Act.”

This demonstrates a point which is well-made by Norwegian criminologist May-Len Skilbrei here: just because it isn’t a crime to sell sex doesn’t mean a person can do so without facing the strong arm of the law. If the State makes it a policy that sex work is something that cannot be tolerated, its officers will fight it with whatever means they have at their disposal: immigration laws, housing laws (as in Norway’s notorious “Operation Homeless”), public order laws (same link; see also the French bill which explicitly allows such laws to be used against street workers); Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (the reversal of which was deemed “frustrating” by a Swedish model-supporting Irish parliamentarian), custody laws (with tragic consequences last year) and probably anything else you can think of, short of actually prohibiting the sale of sexual services. And these have a similar effect as prohibiting the sale of sexual services, namely, giving sex workers an incentive to avoid state officials or anyone they think might rat them out to state officials (including the police and health and social services). In this context, the distinction between the Swedish model and one which directly criminalises the sale of sex is a distinction without all that much of a difference.

Getting back to the report, it goes on to describe in some detail the awful conditions and abuse that many migrant sex workers endure.  I won’t quote it here, but suffice to say it’s on a par with any of the tragedy porn regularly cited in support of the Swedish model. It describes the significant involvement of organised crime in the sex industry, another of the things we in Ireland are frequently told we need the Swedish model to address. And it also goes on to describe a Swedish “review” site which could easily have been used as a source on that Invisible Men tumblr (which, of course, also propagandises for the Swedish model). These are other ways in which the sex purchase ban seems to have fallen short of the grandiose claims made for it.

The report then confirms something sex workers themselves have complained of:

In 2011, the police Prostitution Team in Stockholm established that the sex-purchasers seemed to prefer to use “out-calls” to a greater extent than before. One reason for this is believed to be that the sex-purchasers consider that the risk of detection will be less if they order a woman to come to their home instead of exploiting her in a hotel room.

Here, the report directly contradicts one of the findings of the 2010 official evaluation, namely, that sex workers are not at greater risk of violence under the law.

Section 3.1 concludes with a couple pages on “Payment for sexual services”. Here, the report briefly discusses the law against buying sex, the statistics on the offence and the (positive) conclusions of the official evaluation (which it quotes without comment). Notably absent is a claim that appeared in previous years’ reports that the law deters traffickers from setting up business in Sweden. Perhaps the Swedish police no longer believe they can stand over this claim. It’s not hard to see why.

**

Last month, I took part in a debate with Sarah Benson from Ruhama and Nusha Yunkova from the Immigrant Council of Ireland – the two NGOs leading the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. (Kathryn McGarry, a researcher from NUI Maynooth, made up the balance on the panel.) In response to my citing this report, Sarah Benson said that the Swedes “never said” they would eliminate prostitution entirely. I don’t think this is strictly true; the Swedish Women’s Lobby, for example, has described the law as “a model to end prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation”.

But it’s certainly the case that the law has been promoted outside of Sweden – not least in Ireland – as one that has been a hell of a lot more effective than this report shows it to be. In fact, when interviewed by the Irish community TV programme The Live Register, Nusha Yunkova made the amazing claim that “there is no prostitution in Sweden”.  While this would stretch credulity of even the most gullible Irish politician, I think it’s fair to say that most of those who’ve declared their support for the Swedish model would be surprised by the contents of this report. They’ve been sold a law that has been “proven” to reduce the size of the sex industry, not one that isn’t actually being measured in this respect. A law that “reduces” sex trafficking from other countries, not one under which the number of women from certain countries “who are being exploited in prostitution in Sweden” has increased. A law that “deters” men from purchasing sex, not one that is such a useless deterrent the number of massage parlours in the capital has almost trebled in recent years. And so on.

Of course, knowing the considerably less rosy reality of the Swedish model probably wouldn’t make a difference to the average politician or those leading the TORL campaign; facts and evidence aren’t really their main concern. But at least they couldn’t cloak their moral, ideological and populist stances under a veneer of empiricism. For those whose support for the law stems from a sincere belief that it’s actually had a significant effect on deterring clients and reducing the extent of sex work and trafficking, they’re entitled to hear the evidence that it hasn’t. And we’re all entitled to an honest debate – something that’s been sorely lacking in Ireland so far.

*ETA: The statement has now been removed from the Swedish police website. The original Swedish text was: “Merparten av sexhandeln bedrivs numera via internet. Ingen av de inspekterade myndigheterna har dock någon fullständig bild av omfattningen eftersom de inte bedriver någon kontinuerlig eller strukturerad spaning på nätet”.

The EU report on trafficking in human beings

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Last month saw the publication of the EU’s first Trafficking in Human Beings report, which is billed as an attempt to “collect comparable data on trafficking in human beings at the EU level”. The report is (properly) littered with disclaimers, such as this one in screaming bold type on page 30:

More reported cases do not necessarily mean an increase in the actual number of victims. This may indicate an improvement in the reporting rate of the phenomenon or a change in the recording system

Unfortunately, however, when it came to the press release, the European Commission decided to go for the handy soundbite – and so we’ve been deluged with headlines like “Human trafficking increased by 18%” when of course, the report doesn’t show it did any such thing.

For all the faith put into that 18% figure, though, most of the newspaper and NGO reactions don’t evince much interest in the rest of the data. I’m going to put this down to simple laziness – it’s a whole 94 pages they’d have to wade through, poor dears – but it’s also the case that if all the statistics were accepted as readily as the “18% increase” has been, it would be a little bit inconvenient for some of those with an interest in this area. This table on page 31 shows why:

Trafficking01

Contrary to what we’re constantly told by the anti-trafficking movement, the most recent figures make it hard to discern any link between trafficking and the legal status of sex work. The Dutch rate is very high, but the Cyprus rate is higher – and Cyprus has much stricter laws than the Netherlands (brothels are illegal, for one thing). Romania, where sex work itself is illegal, is nearly as high. Hungary (legal), Portugal (legal) and Lithuania (illegal) are tied for last. Austria and Germany are also relatively low – in fact, Germany and Sweden are tied, at 0.8 per 100,000.  And the German rate has remained more or less constant over the three years surveyed, while Sweden’s has quadrupled.

Don’t think we’ll be reading that in the next Turn Off the Red Light press release.

I’m being mischievous, of course, because as I’ve already said, the data don’t – and can’t – show the actual number of trafficked persons in each country. So we can’t really say that Germany, Austria and Sweden have more or less the same trafficking rate. But let’s be honest here – had the table shown Germany and Austria to be right up there with the Netherlands, and Sweden way down on its own, is there any doubt we’d have heard all about it from the prohibitionist groups?

But sex workers’ rights advocates shouldn’t leap on those figures, either, because truthfully the whole report is pretty hopelessly undermined by its methodological weaknesses. These include the following:

Different countries provided different sets of data. On page 30 we are told:

Ten EU Member States provided data on identified and presumed victims, 15 EU Member States provided data on identified victims only and two EU Member States provided data on presumed victims only. The participating non-EU countries provided data only on identified victims.

This alone would make it impossible to get a cohesive account of trafficking, or even just of detected trafficking, across Europe. It certainly renders a comprehensive cross-country comparison untenable. (In case you were wondering, though, all the countries I’ve mentioned so far provided data only on “identified victims” – except for the Netherlands, which only gave “presumed victim” data. More about this later.)

Different countries use different definitions. The Commission seems to have attempted to get around this, by reminding countries of the international definition of “trafficking” when sending them the forms to complete, but the methodology problem is unavoidable. An “identified victim” is, according to page 22,

a person who has been formally identified as a victim of trafficking in human beings according to the relevant formal authority in Member States

and that inevitably introduces an element of subjectivity into the data, because not all member states strictly apply the international definition when deciding whom to identify as a victim of trafficking. In fact, I doubt whether any of them do – and they are inconsistent in the manner and degree by which they diverge from the international definition. So when we look at that table and see that Ireland has more than twice the rate of “identified victims” as Greece, for example, we have no way of knowing whether that’s because Irish police genuinely detected twice the rate of people who fit the international definition, or whether the Irish police identified people outside the international definition, or whether the Greek police declined to identify people inside it.

This problem is magnified for those countries that include data for “presumed victims”, that is:

a person who has met the criteria of EU regulations and international Conventions but has not been formally identified by the relevant authorities (police) as a trafficking victim or who has declined to be formally or legally identified as trafficked.

Here, member states are essentially being asked to submit data on people who were trafficked but were not identified as trafficked. To identify unidentified trafficking victims. There’s something a bit Schrödinger’s Cat-like about this category; it just doesn’t seem to lend itself to any real scientific measurement, at all.

If the data had been collected on a forward-looking basis, it might almost be workable. That is, if countries had been told that, for the future, they would be asked to record details of not only the people who they formally identified as victims of trafficking, but also of people who they would have identified as trafficked but for some insurmountable obstacle (such as that the person themselves told them where to stick their “trafficking victim” status). You’d still have the subjectivity problem, but at least you would know that the records were being kept on an ongoing basis, with the member states knowing exactly what they were to look out for.

But that’s not how this was done. Instead, as explained on page 17,

The questionnaire was sent via Eurostat to the National Statistical Offices of the EU Member States, EU Candidate and Potential Candidate countries and to the EFTA/EEA (European Free Trade Association/European Economic Association) countries in September 2011. It included the appropriate tables, a list of common indicators, definitions and guidelines for collecting the statistical data as well as the country codes to be used and a template for providing metadata.

So countries were asked to collate retrospectively their data on people who they had identified as unidentified trafficked persons. And then to pick out of that data only the people who fit the “common indicators, definitions and guidelines”. But who’s to say that the data were initially recorded in such a way as to make that possible? If the authorities weren’t already aware they were going to be asked to provide data on people who they’d declined to identify as “trafficked”, you have to wonder whether they’d be quite so diligent in their record keeping about those people.

Did I say “authorities”? Oh – here’s the next problem:

“Presumed victim” statistics were supplied by a wide variety of sources. According to page 23:

Data on ‘presumed’ victims on trafficking in human beings may be available from national rapporteurs (or equivalent mechanisms which tend to act as national coordinating bodies), victims assistance services, immigration services, labour inspections and border guards.

I don’t think I can really overstate this point: there is no possible way to get anything like a reliable, consistent overview when you throw out to your data collectors that they can get their information from pretty much anywhere they can find it. And as it happens, some of the key data sources are pretty questionable. For example, in the Netherlands the source is CoMensha, a national agency, which according to page 39:

does not have a formal assessment based on specific criteria by which the registered person’s status as a victim can be verified.

In other words – as I discussed in this post – CoMensha simply records the alleged cases that are referred to them, without actually investigating whether there’s any substance to the allegations. The Dutch figures in this report, therefore, are based on little more than rumour. No wonder they’re so high.

Also problematic is the Latvian information, which according to page 38 is

provided by the NGO Resource Centre for Women “Marta”, which provides assistance for presumed victims using alternative financing.

Marta is a prohibitionist organisation, and one that therefore has an interest in finding trafficking victims. In fairness to them, there’s nothing in the data to suggest they’re inflating the numbers; Latvia’s overall rate is the same as Germany’s and Sweden’s and only a minority of these fall into the “presumed victim” category. Nonetheless, their objectivity as a source has to be doubted.

To take a final example, page 39 states that Finland’s number of presumed victims

includes all cases who were directed to reception centers on the basis of suspicion of human trafficking.

Does that sound like a rigorous effort to make sure only the cases that fit the Commission’s specified criteria were reported? Not to me it doesn’t.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. There’s just too much variation across countries, and too loose standards within countries, to consider this a reliable measure of the amount of trafficking in Europe. The report is of (limited) interest for what it reveals about the countries’ data collection processes, but overall you really get the sense of this being a box-ticking exercise for Brussels bureaucrats more than anything else.

I’ll just finish on a couple other matters I found worthy of comment. Firstly, on page 24 it states:

Data is to be collected on the total number of female and male victims

The binary (and I’m guessing cis-centric) approach is unfortunate, as even though the figures aren’t reliable it would still be interesting to see how many trans* persons were recorded. But the only reference I can find within any of the country data is in the British records, on page 39, where it says that one adult trans* woman was identified. Unfortunately, it manages to say this in a grossly offensive way.

There are also figures on “suspected traffickers” and “prosecuted traffickers”. It’s not clear exactly what threshold was required for the first category, but one thing I found interesting was that non-EU citizens accounted for 55% of the former but only 24% of the latter. The reasons for the discrepancy aren’t explained. It could be that non-EU citizens are more likely to go missing before they can be prosecuted, of course, but there could also be a greater tendency to suspect them without any real proof. This is something that merits further research.

And finally, a word about citizenship and labour market status. On page 52 there’s a table (Table 6) that breaks down all the identified and presumed victims, by year and by citizenship. So I did a little numbers exercise. First I counted all the identified victims by country (I didn’t count the presumed victims, because for all the reasons explained above, I think those numbers are too messy to be of any real use). Then I subtracted the internal trafficking victims (as listed on page 53, Table 7). And then I totalled up the remainder, put them into geographical categories and worked out the percentages of each.

The disclaimers first. The numbers don’t quite add up, because I came up with a grand total of 12,261 identified victims in Table 6, whereas the Table 2 combined figure for identified victims is 13,424. I’m not sure where that missing 1,163 went. There also seems to be a minor discrepancy in the Table 7 figures, since I end up with –2 cross-border EU-15 citizen victims in 2009. I couldn’t subtract the child victims, as there’s no breakdown by “identified” and “presumed” nor any indication of how many were working-age children. And of course, all the problems with the data I’ve already discussed still apply. But bearing all that in mind, I still think the results are stark enough to be worth pointing out. Of the identified victims of cross-border trafficking in the three year period:

  • 37% were Romanian or Bulgarian
  • 58% were from outside the EU/EEA
  • 5% were from the 2004 accession countries
  • <1% were from the EU-15

Thus, 95% were from countries barred from all or most of the EU labour market during the data collection period – and nearly everyone else was from a country barred from much of the EU labour market during the data collection period. This isn’t quite as dramatic as it seems, because it still only accounts for just over half the identified victims – the internal trafficking rate is surprisingly high, which is something else that merits investigation (though as the number is very high in some countries and negligible in others, I suspect it mainly comes down to definitions). Notwithstanding those limitations, though, I think it’s safe to conclude that cross-border migrants in the EU are far, far, far more likely to experience trafficking if they don’t have labour market access in the country they’re migrating to.

You’d think this would be a no-brainer, wouldn’t you? But EU states just don’t seem to get it. They consistently wring their hands about the trafficking problem, but stubbornly insist they just can’t relax their labour migration policies – without seeming to make the connection between the two. At some point they’re going to have to admit that if they really want to address the issue, they’ll have to stop making it all but impossible for accession state citizens and non-EU citizens to legally work in their countries. Or else admit that they aren’t really that bothered about trafficking after all.

This piece comes from Britain, but Irish feminists must not see it as irrelevant to feminism in Ireland. One example that jumped out at me immediately was this one: “To involve women of colour as entertainment or free catering service at feminist events whilst failing to involve women of colour in visible lead speaker or panel roles is racist.” I can think of a couple recent examples where events were organised to discuss migrant women’s experiences, and migrant women did not feature on the panel at all (at least initially, presumably until the exclusion was pointed out to the organisers). I also attended an event not too long ago where a migrant woman spoke powerfully about her negative experiences in Ireland, and when it came to Q&A time a white Irish woman in the audience stood up to express her sympathies…and then addressed a question about this woman’s experience to the white Irish NGO worker sitting beside her on the panel.

I’d note also the negative reaction among some Irish feminists to a woman of colour’s post on this blog, in which she objected to Islam being used as a bogeyman in the Irish abortion debate (as if Catholicism hasn’t been oppressive enough). Among other things, she was told that she should go to a Muslim country and see what things were like there. The assumption by the people who made those comments that they know more about life in her native country than she does – that’s also racist.

Any women of colour in Ireland who are reading this – what other examples of racism have you seen within Irish feminism? And what do white Irish feminists need to do better/differently/at all to address this?

Black Feminists Manchester

By Mia

When we talk about ‘white feminist spaces’ what we mean is the default mainstream feminism of the UK, (Europe and USA). A feminism that considers itself superior to women’s movement’s throughout the world, using it’s white privilege to cherry pick which women (of colour) and oppressions are worthy of attention or rescue, viewed through a myopic authoritative white lens.

White feminism must evolve and integrate with multi cultural societies if it is genuinely concerned with the liberation of all women. Barr a few switched on individuals, many white feminists (WFs) I have encountered in the UK, view ‘woman hate’ as the only form of oppression requiring eradication, for women to be free. I wish that was true.

What many WFs still forget or fail to notice is that, women of colour making up the global majority of the women’s population, they face and challenge multiple oppressions i.e. racism, classism…

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Anti-Deportation Ireland launch

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(Note: In this post, I’ll be sharing things raised and spoken about at the ADI launch. Because of the risk this could pose to the people in question, however, I’m not going to give their names or any details about them unless I get explicit permission to do so.)

Anti-Deportation Ireland was officially launched on Wednesday morning. ADI is “a national, multi-ethnic grassroots network/alliance of activists, asylum seekers, refugees, community workers, trade unionists, and academics who have come together to campaign against forced deportation in Ireland, and for the abolition of the direct provision system.”. They have three demands:

  1. An immediate end to all deportations
  2. The immediate abolition of the direct provision system.
  3. The right to work for people seeking asylum.

So why these demands? How do direct provision and deportation work in Ireland, and why is it so important to end them?

Direct Provision

Direct provision is how asylum seekers’ basic needs- for food and shelter- are provided in Ireland. Asylum seekers are placed in hostels. Food is provided by these hostels. Because food and shelter are directly provided, the only money people are given is an allowance of €19.50 per week. Until people’s claims have been decided, they do not have the right to work or education in Ireland. The amount of time it can take for a claim to be decided varies hugely- people can spend years waiting for a decision.

Despite the name, direct provision isn’t, well, directly provided by the State. It’s outsourced privately, and because of this becomes a for-profit enterprise. Despite being outsourced, it’s unregulated. Can you see where this is going? People are accommodated three, four, five to a room, with different families sharing a room. The standard of food can be atrocious. Not only is it extremely bad, but in many cases utterly unlike what people are used to in their home countries. And because of direct provision, asylum seekers don’t have the facilities or the rights to even cook their own food.

Complaining about conditions is rarely an option. People who complain about overcrowding are told that they should be grateful that they are not homeless. That they’re taking up room that Irish homeless people don’t have- pitting two extremely vulnerable minorities in this country against each other.

Several people talked about raising their families in direct provision. One woman spoke of how one of her children is too young to remember anything else. How she doesn’t know the difference between a bedroom and a living room and a kitchen. How happy her child is whenever they leave the hostel, and how she hates having to go back ‘home’. Another speaker talked about the particularly Irish way in which cases of child abuse within hostels are dealt with. Perpetrators can be, in a cruel echo of so many other institutions in this country, simply moved from hostel to hostel. This is happening now. And those who complain are often moved themselves, without any right to protest, to other hostels around the country, disrupting any fragile sense of community they might have created where they are. People are denied the right to privacy, to cook their own food, to have a home where they feel safe and where they know how long they can stay.

Right to Work

As well as being forced to live in specific hostels, asylum seekers in Ireland are denied the right to work and education while their claims are being processed- which can take years. On the one hand, this is immensely wasteful. Ireland is in a recession! How many skilled, educated, qualified people are languishing in hostels unable to work, when they could be contributing to society? This also shows the lie of the idea that asylum seekers and migrants are ‘draining’ the system. These people are not permitted to work, even when they want to. On the other hand, years of enforced, stultifying idleness can be devastating for asylum seekers. Not being able to work means that people’s skills get rusty. Work and education are also two of the major ways that people integrate and find a place in communities. Direct provision and the denial of the right to work and study keep asylum seekers separate from Irish society. They mean that people can be here for years with no ability to put down roots and make a home. That Irish people don’t get to work and study beside asylum seekers. That we see asylum seekers as other.

Deportation

Asylum seekers, however, don’t just have to live with direct provision. They also face the constant threat of deportation. On World Refugee Day this year, the 20th of June, 18 people were deported from this country. Twelve of them were children. People are not deported during the day. They are taken from their beds in the middle of the night. When neighbours don’t notice. When people who could help them to appeal are out of work, are asleep. Without notice.

Several people spoke of the constant threat of deportation. About staying awake through the night, sacred this would be the night they’d be forced out. One speaker remarked that even criminals in prison in this country know what they have been sentenced to. They know how long they’ll be there. Asylum seekers don’t have even this security. Another speaker remarked that for asylum seekers, the normal rights accorded people by the legal system are turned upside-down. Asylum seekers are assumed guilty and lying until proven otherwise. The burden of proof is on them, and it is made incredibly difficult to prove themselves innocent. But, as several people asked, why would someone put themselves through this system without good reason? Why would they live like this, for years on end, if they didn’t absolutely need to?

Not okay.

Direct provision, night-time deportations, denial of basic human rights- these things are done by the state to asylum seekers. But as one speaker said, there is a thing line between a refugee and a citizen. Our government has shown that it is willing to trample basic human rights, to engage in a deliberate campaign to other and alienate a group of people. The ‘asylum seeker’ is constructed as scapegoat and a subject for deportation. As Irish people, we need to contest this construction. We need to reach out to people seeking asylum, to hear their stories, to share these stories every way we can. We need to bring the lives of asylum seekers into the light. As one speaker said, “No more secrets. No more lies. No more lying awake every night waiting to be taken away”.

More info on the launch at Cedar Lounge RevolutionPoliticoMillstreet.ie and Irish Left Review. Follow ADI on Facebook to find out more about what they are doing and how you can get involved.

Myself and Ariel Silvera also livetweeted this meeting. A summary of these is available here.

Originally posted on my personal blog, Consider The Tea Cosy.

“There was no lack of buyers” – Swedish sex trafficking trial concludes

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It may have escaped your notice if you rely on what the Swedes tell other countries about their sex trafficking problem, but last week several men were convicted for what Swedish prosecutors have called one of the largest trafficking rings of its kind ever uncovered in that country. It involved Romanian women who were brought to Sweden, some of them on the pretence of working in legal industries, and forced to sell sex in various Gothenburg arenas. You can read more about it here, here and here.

I won’t cite all the tragedy porn in those links (though I have no doubt supporters of the Swedish model would, if it had happened in a country where buying sex was legal), but there are a couple things I think are worth drawing attention to. The first is the quote in the title of this post, which comes from the third link. That article goes on to report one of the women’s testimony that she had seven or eight customers on her very first night. This doesn’t say much for the supposed deterrent effect of the sex purchase ban.

The second is the breakdown of ages (in the final link) of the men convicted of buying sex from these women: 36% were born in the 1960s, 21% in the 1970s and 30% in the 1980s. The other 13% aren’t accounted for except to say that the oldest was 76 and the youngest 17. So nearly a third, and perhaps slightly over that, were teenagers when the ban was introduced in 1999: further evidence (as I discussed here) that it hasn’t had the normative effect it was supposed to have on younger men.

The 17-year-old’s conviction is interesting for another reason. If Wikipedia (and all the other links I’ve found by Googling) is correct, Sweden’s age of majority is 18, which means that he is legally still a child. There’s nothing unusual about minors being convicted of crimes, of course, but the way that prostitution is conceptualised in Sweden does make this rather remarkable. The ideology underlying the sex purchase ban is that women cannot choose to sell sex; evidently, however, Swedish law considers that male children (at least of a certain age) can choose to buy it. In other words, when it comes to trading sex for money, adult women are less competent than male children. Could there be any clearer illustration of how this law infantilises women?

(It’s true that at least some of the women involved in this ring didn’t actually choose to sell sex, but the law doesn’t make a distinction between those who do and those who don’t. As far as I can tell from the various reports, the men were convicted for buying sex simpliciter, not for buying sex from trafficked persons, which does not appear to be a separate offence in Swedish law. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Nor is this an isolated incident. Last month, the same journal carried a story about another “large scale sex trafficking ring”, involving an even greater number of women, in Stockholm. In fact, the Swedish-language paper Sydsvenska, discussing the Gothenburg trial, says that “Många” (many) human trafficking cases have been reported since the law was brought in. The law’s advocates, funnily enough, seem to leave that detail out of their propaganda.

Some of the other Swedish language reports have equally interesting comments. I tracked down the source of that client age survey, this Dagens Nyheter (Daily News) article, in which I found the following information about the Gothenburg sex trade (Google Translate C&P job, but you get the gist):

The two worst pimps were convicted of trafficking and the other four for aggravated procuring. But in the street sex trade going back to normal. “Moreover, there prostitution in more arenas than we can access,” says social worker Ms Malmström…

We have also attempted to examine the major internet sites and SMS sent and email to over 300 who sell sex on the net, says Ms Malmström, so the market is actually much larger.

This article in the Gothenburg Post states that the men convicted included a municipal councillor, a Premier Division footballer, and several directors and sales managers. It also reports the County Police Commissioner as saying human trafficking is “a business with huge income and relatively low risks”. Not quite what we’ve been told about Sweden being an unattractive market for traffickers, is it?

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. The picture that advocates of the Swedish model are painting outside of Sweden is clearly very different to the reality inside Sweden. Furthermore, the Swedes don’t seem unaware that they still have significant issues with prostitution and sex trafficking – they just don’t want the rest of the world to know about it. And so, they send their spokespersons out to lobby for the sex purchase ban in other countries, by making claims that are directly contradicted by their own officials in their own media. And credulous moralists and anti-sex work feminists swallow it wholesale, no questions asked.

What’s the Swedish for “con job”?

Human trafficking in Ireland, 2011

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The Irish Department of Justice’s Annual Report of Trafficking in Human Beings in Ireland for 2011 was published recently and I’ve now had a chance to look it over. As you’d probably expect, the coverage of it has been pretty superficial, but that’s not entirely the journalists’ fault: it’s a pretty superficial document, which leaves a lot of really important questions unanswered. That said, no one’s exactly asking them, either.

So here are my thoughts about what this report tells us – and doesn’t tell us – about human trafficking in Ireland in 2011. First, a bit of context. Trafficking is prohibited under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, which you can read here. Sections 1-4 are the parts that set out the definition of the offence, and if you don’t mind a bit of legalese it’s interesting to compare them to the international definition set out in the Palermo Protocol on trafficking, which we finally got around to ratifying two years ago. The Irish statute is much wordier, which is entirely typical of domesticised versions of international law: the latter are typically aspirational, unenforceable and constructed through compromise, so detailed definitions are usually neither necessary nor (from a state’s perspective) desirable. The former, however, are the actual law in a country and so need to be drafted with precision.

Length aside, there are three differences I want to focus on between the Irish and international definitions. These are differences in how the two texts deal with what I’ll call the “what”, “why” and “how” of trafficking. The “what” difference is really just technical: in the Irish law (Section 1), “trafficking” itself is a neutral term and is not an offence per se. If you give someone a job, or a place to live, or put them on a bus to another county, you’ve trafficked them. It becomes an offence only if you do these things in a certain way (the “how”) and for a certain purpose (i.e. exploitation, the “why”), which I’ll get to shortly.

By contrast, under Palermo “trafficking” is defined by the simultaneous presence of the “what”, “why” and “how”, so trafficking must always be a crime. I’m not sure that this difference has any practical significance (the Irish statute’s broad definition has no relevancy outside this Act), but it’s one of those things that law nerds like me get excited about.

The second difference, which is much more important, is the restriction that Irish law places on the meaning of “exploitation” (the “why”). Palermo states that

Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…

The Irish law, on the other hand, spells out what “other forms of sexual exploitation” are included, and draws out (without really adding anything) the non-sexual labour provisions, crucially omitting Palermo’s “at a minimum” phrase. So whereas in international law a highly abusive practice with all the other elements of trafficking could conceivably qualify as such without fitting into any of the specified types of exploitation, in Ireland at least one of the boxes has to be ticked before the exploitation can be deemed to amount to trafficking. This isn’t a criticism of the Irish law; if it did include an “at a minimum” phrase, it could probably never be used or a person convicted under it would have a constitutional challenge for vagueness. But it helps to explain why it can be so difficult to show exploitation amounting to human trafficking, even where exploitation in the everyday sense is obvious.

The final key difference is similar; it’s the way the two texts define the “how”. In the Protocol, it’s

by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person

Here, too, there’s a catch-all that can potentially encompass a very broad range of circumstances. It’s the clause about “abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability”. A person with limited migration and/or employment options is almost by definition in a position of vulnerability; a person with the ability to facilitate or deny them access to those options is by definition in a position of power. What constitutes “abuse” is not defined, and is therefore open to a wide degree of interpretation (and ideological spin).

The Irish law adds a significant qualifier to its version of this clause: under Section 4(1)(c) of the 2008 Act, abuse of this type is only sufficient to bring about a trafficking charge if it

cause[d] the trafficked person to have had no real and acceptable alternative but to submit to being trafficked

So, in Ireland the abuse has to pretty much reach the level of coercion before the law is breached. This is pretty clearly an intentional narrowing of the Protocol’s definition, and gives rise to what could be an important question in adjudicating trafficking cases: who decides what is a “real and acceptable alternative”, and how?

Where children are concerned, both the Protocol and the Irish law have a similar feature in that they both disapply the “how” provisions: as long as the “what” and “why” are present, the child has been trafficked. And the Irish law adds a few things to the “what” of child trafficking. I’ll come back to this later.

So after that rather lengthy introduction (I didn’t actually think it was going to be that long when I started it, apologies) let’s move on to the actual report. We’ll begin with the statistics since that, unfortunately, is what people are usually most interested in. Page 8 has a table summarising the data on victims reported to the Department by the Irish police, An Garda Síochána:

Then on page 17, there’s a table of the victims reported to the Department by NGOs:

A couple important things here. First, the report states that the figures in the first table should be assumed to largely include the figures in the second table, although the Department’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit didn’t collect personal data on the victims so couldn’t be entirely sure.

The second important thing is that these are all reported – not confirmed – victims. In the first table, they are persons whom the police investigated as possible trafficking victims. In the second table, they are persons whom the NGOs (according to page 6)

believed exhibited indications of having been trafficked

In a similar vein, that strange “uncategorised exploitation” category in the first chart is explained on page 3 to mean that

while at the time of reporting there were general suspicions that these persons could be victims of human trafficking there were no firm indications that either labour or sex trafficking had occurred

.

So regard must be had to the possibility that in some of these cases there actually was no human trafficking. And the figures, of course, do not take into account those cases that were never detected or reported at all. As with every other human trafficking report in every other country, it is really a record of human trafficking (and alleged human trafficking) reporting, rather than being a record of human trafficking itself.

Page 10 gives a breakdown into age category, cross-referenced with exploitation category. Unfortunately all under-18s are lumped under the heading of “minor”; it would be useful to have more information on where the 7 reported child victims of sexual exploitation and 4 child victims of labour exploitation (plus one each of “both categories” and “uncategorised”) fell on the age scale. It’s all the same legally, of course, but I think there are few people who don’t recognise some kind of difference between a 17-year-old and a 7-year-old – at the very least they would call for rather different preventive approaches.

In terms of the child sexual exploitation, recall what I said above about the broad definition of “trafficking” where children are concerned. Just this week we had this case, in which a man was charged with attempted child trafficking after pulling a girl off her bicycle with the aim of abducting and raping her. A horrific crime, to be sure, but not exactly what most people think of when they see headlines like this. Those who are tempted to see those 13 reported victims as evidence of a growing problem of child trafficking (as it is commonly understood) should bear in mind that some of them may have actually been victims of a type of abuse we’re much more familiar with in Ireland.

Page 11 gives a breakdown of region of origin, and there’s no surprise here: around two-thirds were from outside the EU, which in most cases means they had very restricted, or no, access to the legal labour market. This, as I’ve discussed repeatedly, is a major risk factor for trafficking (both for sexual and non-sexual exploitation). Six of the reported victims were Irish, and the article linked to in the last paragraph says that they were all underage although I can’t find that in the report. Nine were EU citizens, but we don’t know from where – and this is very important, because it too would affect their access to the labour market (Romanians and Bulgarians, remember, are still generally excluded).

Page 14 gives their immigration status:

Under the table is this footnote:

Please note that the reported immigration status reflects the status of persons at the time the information was provided to the AHTU and not when persons were reported to An Garda Síochána.

So with the presumed exception of the EU/Irish citizens, we have absolutely no idea what status the victims entered the country with, or what their status was at the time they were being trafficked within Ireland. That’s a shame, because it would be useful to know whether they’re coming in as asylum seekers, on work permits or bypassing border controls completely (by, for example, crossing the land border with the North). It would also be useful to know how many of them entered the asylum system after being trafficked because the possibility of refugee status offers them their only hope for remaining in Ireland.

On that note I’ll turn to the figure for “Administrative Arrangements”: this is the status for people who have been recognised by the police as victims of trafficking, and allowed to remain for a “reflection and recovery” period. At first glance it seems striking that only one person out of 57 has been granted this status. But there are a couple things worth bearing in mind. First, the main effect of the AA status is to give (limited) protection against deportation – so it doesn’t in any case apply to Irish and EU citizens, who have their own protections already. Thus it’s really one person out of 42. More significant are the figures on page 26, on the “Criminal Justice response to human trafficking”. This states that trafficking investigations are still ongoing in 32 cases (out of a total of 53 – some of these cases account for more than one of the 57 victims); in one case the claim was withdrawn; and in 6 they couldn’t find enough evidence to show that any trafficking took place. In such circumstances, the grounds for recognition really aren’t there. So now we’re down to one person given AA status out of 14 confirmed trafficking cases (that’s assuming that those 14 actually are “confirmed”, which isn’t explicitly stated on page 26 but seems to be the implication). And we don’t know how many of these 14 victims were Irish or EU citizens and so not entitled to AA status anyway. There were 15 reported Irish/EU victims in 2011, so conceivably it could be all of them. On the other hand, it could be none of them. Without better data, we don’t know – but we shouldn’t jump to knee-jerk conclusions based on one quick glance at the overall numbers.

The final thing I want to look at is the breakdown of cases reported by NGOs, by exploitation category and gender. Page 17 states that 22 of the 27 NGO cases were sexual exploitation, and one was labour + sexual. Page 19 says that all of the 27 were female.

It would be easy to cynically assume from this that Irish NGOs just aren’t interested in labour exploitation or in male victims. And, in fact, two of the four reporting NGOs do only deal with sexual exploitation, and one of these only works with women. But the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, for whom I have huge regard, focuses pretty much exclusively on labour exploitation and takes a gender-neutral approach. And in fact, only a day or two after this report appeared, the MRCI were quoted on the evening news as saying they’d found something like 167 cases of forced labour in the past few years (I can’t find a link to this news broadcast, so you’ll have to take my word for it). So why did they only report 4 cases of labour trafficking last year?

I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, but I can think of a possible explanation. Quite simply, the Migrant Rights Centre exists to promote migrant rights. And human trafficking is not a rights-based concept. It should be, ideally, but trafficking law as conceived at both national and international levels is fundamentally a criminal justice instrument, aimed more at punishing perpetrators than protecting victims.

From this perspective, the Administrative Arrangements would be problematic even if they were liberally applied. Their main purpose (as you can read here) is to facilitate trafficked persons in assisting police with their inquiries. If and only if the person agrees to do so, they will be given temporary residence permission, but it’s clearly envisaged that eventually (i.e., when the investigation is complete) they’ll be repatriated.

That’s great if you’re one of the (very small percentage of) trafficking victims who was forcibly removed from your home country, and you want to return. It’s great if you left home voluntarily but have since decided that you want to return. It’s great if you harbour such (justifiable) ill will toward your traffickers that your paramount concern is to see them punished for their crimes. But if you just want to get on with your life and achieve the goals that you came to Ireland for in the first place? Not so much.

Since the MRCI deals only with victims of labour exploitation, it’s likely that a lot of them would have arrived in Ireland on a work permit. Although a work permit is valid in respect of one employer only, the stated Department of Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise policy is to allow a change of employer in cases of exploitation. (It’s questionable how well this policy is actually adhered to, but at least it’s an option on paper.) Unlike the Administrative Arrangements, a work permit offers a path to long-term residency and citizenship. Why, then, would a person who was subjected to forced labour – at least one who had a work permit to start with – want to pursue it as a trafficking case? There seems to be very little in it for them.

I could be entirely off base here, but even if this isn’t MRCI’s reason for not reporting forced labour cases as trafficking, it’s still a valid concern. The trafficking laws have little or no benefit for trafficking victims who entered the country on work permits – and by the same token, the DJIE policies which do benefit those victims (when they’re actually applied) are not an option for most people trafficked for sexual exploitation. Some researchers lament that victims of forced labour are much less likely to be considered “trafficked”, but it seems in Ireland they might be better off that way.

I said earlier that this is a report about reporting, so perhaps it’s fitting that one of the only things it strongly suggests is that Irish law discourages certain reporting. It’s hard to draw many other conclusions from the report. Trafficking itself is unmeasurable, but the very limited data provision here really doesn’t help us much in understanding what’s going on. Researchers and activists in this field should demand better information, rather than simply seizing on largely meaningless numbers which make easy headlines while actually telling us nothing.

On labour law, human trafficking and the strange silence of advocates

Last week, a couple Tweeters I follow linked to a blog post from 2010 titled The anti-trafficking industry is the biggest threat to migrants. The post made a lot of the same points I’ve made on this blog, such as here, and it’s unfortunate that it was accompanied by such a ludicrously hyperbolic title (which I suspect was likely to lead many people to simply dismiss its contents entirely). The anti-trafficking industry doesn’t make policy, states do, and the biggest threat to migrants is the state policy of increasingly tightening borders to keep them out – irrespective of the consequences for their human rights and even their lives. This policy predates the growth of the anti-trafficking movement, and would undoubtedly continue if the movement disappeared tomorrow.

Of course, I agree that the movement’s advocacy often serves as an effective justification of border policies. It does this harm both by commission (encouraging crackdowns on migration in order to “rescue” people whom it assumes, not always correctly, to be unwilling victims) and by omission (failing to challenge these noxious policies where they occur). We saw another example of this recently in Ireland, where the government decision to maintain labour market access restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals was met with a resounding thud of silence by the big guns in Irish anti-trafficking.

A little bit of background first. Free movement of workers is, as we all know, supposed to be one of the principles underpinning the European Union’s existence. But as the EU has grown larger and larger – and, let’s face it, as its population has become more ethnically and culturally diverse – member states have developed colder and colder feet about opening up their labour markets. It is now a feature of accession treaties that states can opt to deny the right to work to new member state nationals for a specified period of time; Ireland as well as many other EU countries took that option when Bulgaria and Romania joined. As that last link reports, the Irish government has now also taken up the option to extend this exclusion until the end of 2013.

It’s important to understand that denial of labour market access is not the same thing as denial of entry. All EU citizens (well, apart from those with individual exclusion orders but that’s not really relevant here) have freedom to travel within the EU, and to enter other EU countries even if they cannot remain and work in them. The Irish government justified its original decision to ban Romanians and Bulgarians from the labour market on the basis that it might upset our Common Travel Area with Britain (which had already decided not to open its labour market to them), but that was a load of hooey – any Romanians/Bulgarians who want to enter Britain are perfectly free to fly directly into Heathrow, flash their passports at UKBA staff and walk on out onto the streets of London, labour market ban or no labour market ban. Allowing them to work in Ireland would not have made an iota of difference in that respect – that was simply an excuse that the Irish government used to avoid admitting that it wasn’t about to take on a “burden” that the Brits had already declined to share. The point of all this is that while Romanians and Bulgarians are still generally excluded from working in Ireland, their EU citizenship nonetheless entitles them to enter the country freely and without being subject to the border controls faced by citizens of countries outside the EU/EEA.

And that is a double-edged sword where the issue of trafficking is concerned. Because, although fortified borders are for the most part A Very Bad Thing Indeed, in that they force many migrants to turn to smugglers and traffickers just to get into their destination country, they have the (very small) potential to (occasionally) also prevent the worst abuses that occur in human trafficking. I don’t want to overstate this, because it is almost certainly the case that the number of migrants whose lives are worsened by their inability to get into countries where they can make a living far exceeds the number whose lives would be improved by intervention at the border (and for whom that needed intervention actually occurs). But it is theoretically possible, and I’m sure it does happen the (very) odd time, that an alert border agent susses out someone in genuine need of rescue from the fate that would await them if they were allowed to enter with no questions asked.

So in some respects, what we have here is a worst-of-both-worlds situation – Romanians and Bulgarians can get in (or be brought in) but once they are here, they can’t legally work (and under EU law, they have no right of residence without a means to support themselves). I am not arguing that they would be better off not to be allowed in at all, but I don’t think it’s difficult to see how a policy that eliminates the need to forge someone’s entry documents while simultaneously ensuring their financial (and hence residential) dependence on you is a trafficker’s wet dream. It’s a virtual invitation to those who want to exploit migrants from the two poorest EU countries.

And it’s clear, at least in the case of Romanians, that many are being exploited in Ireland – badly. The largest trafficking ring yet uncovered in Ireland, for forced agricultural labour in Wexford, involved Romanian migrants. I won’t link to any Romanian sex trafficking stories because I don’t trust the Irish media on the subject, but even my sex worker sources agree that it’s a real issue here. (It’s usually women working in the sex industry voluntarily but under deeply exploitative conditions, but that qualifies as “trafficking” too.) And, in all these cases, one of the most important factors that facilitates their exploitation is that they have no alternative source of income in Ireland – because they are excluded from the labour market. Even if they are physically capable of escaping their abusive employer, and many of them are, they have nowhere to go but back to Romania because Ireland does not allow them to work.

I was out of the country when the continuation of this shameful policy was announced, but I’ve gone back and looked over both the websites and the Twitter accounts of all the main anti-trafficking organisations in Ireland and I don’t see a single reference to it anywhere. If I managed to read about it while I was on holiday across the ocean, I can’t imagine it escaped their notice – yet apparently not one of them considered it important enough to issue a statement or even Tweet about. (Around the same time, though, several of them commented favourably on the arrests of men trying to buy sex in Limerick.) Has it actually not occurred to any of these groups that this policy decision will have negative consequences for people vulnerable to human trafficking? Have any of them even made the connection between trafficking and restrictive migrant labour laws? I really wonder.

Note that I am not holding this policy single-handedly responsible for that Wexford trafficking ring, or for the exploitation of Romanian women in Irish brothels. I do not believe that the things encompassed within the term “human trafficking” can be boiled down to any one simple explanation. But the trafficker-friendly environment it creates is so blindingly obvious as to be pretty much a no-brainer, and there is no legitimate excuse for anyone genuinely concerned about trafficking to ignore it.

The intersectionality of irregular migration and violence against sex workers

Note: I’m very pressed for time so I won’t be able to include a lot of links in this post. If there’s anything you’d like me to back up, leave a comment and I will do so when I get back to the blog after Christmas.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland is holding a march in Dublin, in solidarity with the undocumented.

This is a march that I heartily endorse. Irish immigration policy promotes irregular migration/residency in a lot of ways: we have the lowest refugee recognition rate in the EU; we don’t grant a statutory right to family reunification to anyone except refugees and EU citizens; we have work permit rules that make it easy for people to become undocumented without even knowing it, or that can force them to remain in an unbearable situation (such as with an abusive spouse or employer) if they want to retain their status. It is, quite frankly, a shocking way for a country that has exported so many of its own people to treat those who come here.

It is also ironic that successive governments have refused to consider a regularisation scheme, even after they’ve made pests of themselves to the US authorities demanding the same for the thousands of undocumented Irish. Although I support that too, as a matter of kneejerk anti-border principle, I have to say I find it difficult to get more worked up about the people at risk of being deported back to Ireland than about the people in Ireland at risk of being deported to, say, the DRC. (It’s called “perspective”.) As a practical matter, too, I think it must be pretty hard for American politicians to take these demands seriously, knowing that the Irish government making them wouldn’t bring in the same laws itself.

So I hope a lot of people turn out for this march. And most of all, I hope it’s a step toward the adoption of a sensible and compassionate immigration policy (though in all honesty, I can’t say I’ll be holding my breath).

Tomorrow is also, of course, the International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers. Events will be held around the globe to commemorate this – but not, as far as I know, here in Ireland.

In the absence of such an event, the march in solidarity with the undocumented would be an ideal place to highlight the subject of violence against sex workers, because there is a clear intersection between the two issues. Undocumented migrants in the sex industry can be at particular risk of violence, for a number of reasons:

  • The inability to migrate legally leaves them reliant on smugglers and traffickers, who may carry out violent acts against them.
  • In addition to any ordinary criminal penalties around selling sex, they also face the threat of deportation. This may make them particularly likely to turn to pimps to hide them from police. While not all pimps are violent, it’s obviously a pretty big risk. The threat of deportation also means they may be less likely to report violent acts against them, whether at the hands of pimps, clients, people posing as clients, disgruntled neighbourhood residents or ordinary arseholes who feel entitled to abuse the sex workers unfortunate enough to encounter them.
  • Police officers may compel undocumented migrants to grant them sexual favours in exchange for not reporting their unlawful presence.
  • Undocumented migrants are generally prohibited from working in legal sex sectors; the health and safety protections that legal workers have in some countries generally do not apply to the undocumented.
  • Brothel raids tend to target those establishments where the presence of undocumented workers is suspected. These raids often result in physical and/or sexual abuse of the people “rescued”. Since the raids don’t address the reason for entry into sex work in the first place, often the “rescued” persons just return to the industry; if they are in debt bondage, they may sink further into debt as a result of the income lost from the raid, thereby heightening their vulnerability to whomever the debt is owed to. Retrafficking is also a risk in some of these cases.
  • Undocumented migrants do not have the option that many resident sex workers have to find another source of income if their income from sex work declines. This may make it more difficult for them to refuse clients who are known to be “bad dates”, or whom their instincts tell them they should avoid.
  • This is just a handful of examples. I could probably think of more if had more time, but hopefully the point has come across. It is worth highlighting again Nick Mai’s recent study of migrant sex workers in Britain, which found that overwhelmingly, they considered regularisation of their status to be the single thing they needed most to protect themselves from abuse and exploitation. In that, I’m sure they would find common ground with the non-sex-working migrants whom the organisers of tomorrow’s march probably had in mind.

    Regrettably, I won’t be at the march tomorrow. I’ll be taking a holiday from my own work, which is in an office where I’ve little risk of violence (barring a colleague going postal). I’ll be travelling between two different countries in which I have an absolute right to enter, remain and work. But my thoughts will be with those who aren’t so lucky – for either reason or, especially, for both.