There are substantially more victims of human trafficking in Ireland than officially recorded, according to a new report from researchers at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Project shows that the number of adults and children trafficked onto the island of Ireland between 2014 and 2019 was higher than records gathered by authorities north and south.
The data shows trafficking was at least 38% higher in the Republic of Ireland and 20% higher in Northern Ireland.
It represents an increase of 132 victims on top of an official count of 346 victims in the Republic of Ireland, and an increase of 54 victims on top of an official count of 268 victims in Northern Ireland over six years.
Of these, 89 minors were officially recorded.
The research also uncovered an additional 12 minors who have not been recorded by authorities in either jurisdiction.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Project on the Island of Ireland was led by a team in Mary Immaculate College and included input from senior personnel in An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Irish Department of Justice, and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland.
Dean of Arts at the College and co-principal investigator on the report, Professor Michael Breen, says Victims of human trafficking are hidden in plain sight.
"They may be working in various industries, in retail shops, in service provision.
"But they are not free; they are forced through threats, intimidation, fear or lack of choice to remain in their situation."
Prof Breen says the report serves to underline the reality of human trafficking in Ireland.
"It represents a call to all concerned to respond more effectively to the plight of trafficking victims here in Ireland and to do all that is possible to identify and support them, while relentlessly pursuing those who exploit them."
The report recommends the development of an all-Ireland database to record cases of human trafficking on the island, as well as specialised education and awareness training for all individuals likely to come into direct contact with human trafficking victims.
The report also recommends the rollout of a communication and information campaign as an all-island initiative, to raise awareness among the public who can often play a critical role in identifying victims of human trafficking.