Police in Northern Ireland are seeing a potential upsurge in cases of modern slavery, with 33 victims identified in the first six months of the year – compared to 36 in the whole of the previous year.
The actual number of people in Northern Ireland affected by the crime is unknown, as it often goes unreported and undetected within the community.
However, the PSNI has been carrying out a number of operations to mark Anti-Slavery Day and raise awareness of criminal, sexual and labour exploitation.
The 36 victims found last year included nine children – five boys and four girls.
Most of the victims (20) were rescued from labour exploitation, while 14 were rescued from sexual exploitation, one from domestic servitude, and one from unknown circumstances.
One of the victims was from Northern Ireland, while the rest came from around the world.
They included nine Romanians, six Lithuanians, four Chinese nationals, three Vietnamese, two Zimbabwean and one each from Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, East Timor, Hungary, Malawi, Nigeria, Slovakia and the Sudan.
Speaking from an operation at George Best Belfast City Airport, PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Mark Bell said: “Modern slavery is often an unseen crime as victims can be afraid to speak out or may be being held captive.
“Victims may be trafficked in from other countries and may have language barriers which prevent them from communicating with police or others who could help.
“The airport may be the first place in Northern Ireland that some victims step foot on, and other victims may be being moved through the airport and on to another destination. We are here to meet flights coming in and out, raise awareness of the crime, and highlight the signs to look out for.”
Tell-tale signs of modern slavery vary depending on the type of exploitation, but could include evidence of a person’s movement being controlled, someone not being able to produce their passport or personal documents, or someone not having access to their earnings.
“One call could end the misery for a victim who could be living next door to you,” DCI Bell added.
Anyone with suspicions of modern slavery in their area can report them to police on 101, using 999 in an emergency, or by contacting the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.