Anti-Slavery Week 2021: the Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid Trafficking Project

18 October 2021

What is the trafficking project?

We are currently contracted by the Department of Justice to provide support to potential female adult victims of modern slavery in Northern Ireland upon signing into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

We are committed to providing and maintaining a healthy and safe environment for all women and children using our services. We provide accommodation and a range of support services to single adult females (including those with children and those who are pregnant as a result of their exploitation) while their cases are being considered under the NRM process as per the statutory requirement under section 18 of the Human Trafficking Act. We also support the repatriation of women who wish to return to their countries of origin. The support we provide to trafficked women is available until the “conclusive grounds” decision has been issued by the Single Competent Authority at the Home Office, or until the end of the 45-day recovery and reflection period.

We are responsible for support around trafficking and pathways to recovery, offering women within the NRM emotional, financial and practical support.

The NRM support available includes helping women to access the following:

  • One to One support from experienced support workers
  • Interpreter/translation services
  • Counselling or other therapeutic services
  • Home Office services
  • Signposting to immigration advice
  • Help with living/travel costs
  • PSNI interviews
  • Signposting to independent legal advice and advice on eligibility for compensation
  • Befriending services
  • Education, training and development
  • Mental Health services
  • Physical Health services
  • Substance and alcohol support
  • Safe temporary/permanent housing
  • Accessing children
  • Support for children (e.g. school admissions, childcare etc)
  • Safety planning
  • Identifying aspirations
  • Access to groups or networks

But trafficking doesn’t happen in Northern Ireland, right?

It’s easy to think that modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) doesn’t happen in Northern Ireland because victims are often ‘hidden in plain sight’, however people are trafficked into and within Northern Ireland into modern slavery.

According to the National Crime Agency’s National Referral Mechanism Statistics summary 2019, “in the UK in 2019 there were 10,627 potential victims of MSHT submitted to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which was a 52% increase from 2018.”

Furthermore, Europol, the EU Agency for law enforcement co-operation, “identified the UK as one of the main destinations of trafficked workers in Europe”.

According to the UK Home Office 2019 National Referral Mechanism statistics, over a third of adult victims of MSHT in Northern Ireland were victims of sexual exploitation. Of this group, over 90% were female victims.

These statistics show that a range of types of modern slavery and human trafficking do in fact happen in Northern Ireland, contrary to the belief that it’s a problem that doesn’t affect us here.

Quick facts about modern slavery and human trafficking

The Palermo Protocol (United Nations protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in human beings, especially women and children) defines human trafficking as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of 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 of another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

  • There are over 40 million people enslaved globally.
  • Slavery happens in every country across the world.
  • 71% of victims of modern slavery are female.
  • There are more people enslaved today than ever before.
  • There are over 130,000 people in the UK living in modern slavery.

If you want to stand up against trafficking, you can find resources from Anti-Slavery here.

If you think someone has been trafficked, want to report suspected slavery or need support & advice as someone impacted by slavery, contact the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 021 700. You can also report your concerns directly to the PSNI by calling 101.

If you need help, advice or support, our trafficking project workers are here for you. Call us on 028 9066 6049, email us on, or chat online with us by clicking the chat bubble on the right hand side of our website.

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