04 Sep 2020

National Referral Mechanisms in the Assistance of Victims of Trafficking: Webinar

  • Date
    01 Oct 2020, 08:00am


IOM Ireland Chief of Mission, Lalini Veerassamy

In the context where we find ourselves during COVID-19, trafficking has continued, and traffickers find ways to innovate and capitalize on the situation. IOM works with governments and NGOs to provide direct assistance to victims and to develop policies and support in the protection, prevention and prosecution of trafficked cases. This webinar will examine how we can bring in effective responses through stronger structures to encourage more victims to come forward.

Department of Justice Secretary General, Oonagh McPhilips

Human trafficking is a hidden crime in our society which targets the most vulnerable. It is particularly cruel as it relies on deception. There is a need to reform the method of identifying victims, this is of critical importance to improving the national response. Currently the Gardaí are the sole authority for the recognition of victims. While they will always have a key role, NRMs in other countries broaden the responsibility of identification to a range of authorities.

Facilitator: Deaglán Ó Briain, Community Safety Policy, Department of Justice

We can always learn from what is happening in other countries in terms of their response to trafficking in persons. We are looking forward to deepening our relationship with the EU when their comparative report on NRMs is published next month, this will be a useful document to guide Ireland as it develops its own NRM, providing a range of models of what might work in our society.


Phil Brewer: Specialist Advisor on Modern Slavery and Director of Intelligence at STOP The TRAFFIK Global

NRM from a UK perspective:

  • NRM in place in the UK since 2009 and as of today, over 8,000 victims have been referred.
  • It is not a static document and the process continues to evolve with one constant authority within the Home Office.
  • Contract to support victims is held by the Salvation Army with several sub-contractors offering accommodation, care and support.

Simple things we can put in place to make a difference:

  • How we all interact in terms of putting victim first, understanding complexities.
  • Police need to listen to the victim and understand their background – this can mean they are more likely to see it through to the prosecution phase.
  • NGO involvement is paramount as they provide firsthand, care and support and are best placed to know what works and what does not.
  • The Human Trafficking Foundation (2016/17) worked with a group of NGOs to put together the Survivor Care Standards – this was adopted last year by UK government and is an example of how NGOs can contribute.
  • The private sector needs to be engaged – what continues to be missing is what happens long term to a victim as survivors need the opportunity to work and become self-sufficient.

Heather Komenda: IOM HQ Geneva

New document which IOM developed and published late last year: IOM Guidance on Referral Mechanisms for the protection and assistance of migrants vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse and victims of trafficking

This document is meant to be very brief and practical for states and stakeholders developing a National Referral Mechanism or improving an existing one. It is very process orientated and is based on IOM’s hands one experience in supporting NRM development around the world.

4 key segments in the document:

  1. What are referral mechanisms
  2. Components of a referral mechanism
  3. How to develop referral mechanisms
  4. How to implement referral mechanisms

What are referral mechanisms?

  • Process of cooperation between multiple stakeholders, it is not a static document.
  • The purpose is to provide protection and ensure access to assistance services.
  • Not just a document, the focus is the process of cooperation, but effective processes needs to be documented.
  • Necessary because of multiple needs, multiple actors, demands, interactions.
  • There are a lot of actors involved in any one case which creates a demand for many people’s time, including the victim – this can push the victim out of the protection sphere.
  • NRMs – bring together partners so supports are coordinated and efficient.

Four key referral mechanism components

  • Identification: Identify persons attempting to assist. Who can identify victims? In the UK there are very specific actors.
  • Status or case type determination: This is when cases are tracked and put into a particular stream of assistance.
  • Case management process: This begins after VoT is identified. It is important to know who can serve as a case manager. Case management is an on-going process which starts right after identification through to closure. Where there is not one dedicated case manager, cases often breakdown.
  • Provision of services: Direct delivery of services or referrals to other services for VoTs such as shelter etc.

Development of referral mechanism

  • Establish a steering committee: Important to be multisectoral, involving law enforcement and protection actors from the beginning, recommended that steering committee is chaired by a Government office.
  • Assessment: Must identify what kind of issues the country is facing and what are the related sectors – need to take time to think through scenarios which need to be addressed.
  • MoU: Governing document which sets the background, purpose, target group, roles and responsibilities and how work will be coordinated. Financial arrangements are critical within the MoU to ensure cases don’t breakdown.
  • SOPs (recommendations): A need for clarity on what the screening procedures are, how are we going to transport clients, data sharing is critical as victims move through NRM process, data management, cost recovery.
  • Additional documents: Flow diagrams, referral directory, standardized forms – important to ensure everybody is on the same page to ensure process moves.

How to implement the referral mechanism: key issues to consider

  • Who is going to coordinate and provide oversight: Often this is missing in NRMs and this is where there is a key role for a lead government agency, usually a protection actor.
  • Funding: Different modalities but it is better when NRM is government funded.
  • Outreach: Critical element so victims can access services.
  • Data collection and management: If there are no processes for managing data, we can’t do next steps without data.
  • Feedback: Essential to provide feedback to ourselves on how the system is working.
  • Monitoring, evaluation, reporting: both the system and outcomes for clients.
  • Capacity building: Where gaps and weaknesses are in our systems.


NRM and the Irish Context

  • The previous SR on Trafficking, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro engaged with Ireland, particularly around identifying victims, lack of prosecution and the importance of non-punishment and access to protection.
  • The State has been found on several occasions not to have met its positive obligations on protection which relate very specifically to protective operational measures that trigger obligations of due diligence on the part of the State.
  • The Irish High Court in 2015 (Judge O’Malley) – found that Ireland did not correctly transpose the 2011 EU Trafficking Directive.
  • The case concerned the administrative arrangements in place in Ireland for the protection of persons who are accused of committing a criminal offence but who are also suspected to be victims of human trafficking.
  • Embarrassing downgrading in Trafficking In Persons Report again this year (Tier 2 Watch List).
  • Findings from GRETA, CERD, CEDAW – repeatedly highlight gaps in Ireland’s systems.

NRM in Ireland

  • Critically important to ensure non-punishment – part of positive obligations on the state.
  • The previous Special Rapporteur published a non-punishment paper in July this year – links with early identification: The Importance of Implementing the non-punishment principle: the obligation to protect victims.
  • Non-punishment links with early identification – NRMs should be understood as a tool which involves a range of actors including police, border management officials, trade unions, healthcare workers etc.
  • Must ensure NRM protects victims across the board including in the immigration context, against administrative sanctions, in relation to deportation, detention and access to compensation.


What works:

  • Interagency working – need for true collaboration where we build trust and show victims that they too can have trust.
  • Ruhama is a psychosocial service and they do a comprehensive assessment of victims.
  • Case Management approach – needs to be this approach with one key agency, one care plan and victim at the centre.
  • All services must be trauma informed.
  • No system that fits all – what we need to do is protect victim – it is a long-term protection NRM Framework – needs to be a long-term engagement


  • Currently updating the 2004 OSCE ODHIR NRM Handbook – and the updated version should be launched at the end of the yea.
  • In 2019 ODHIR launched two surveys to assess the current situation of NRM frameworks across the OSCE region.
  • Important to note that most countries around OSCE have an NRM or are developing one.

Updated NRM handbook:

  • Guided by NRM 12 principles, 4 NRM pillars, NRM required measurable standards for implementation of the 4 NRM pillars.
  • It will include an NRM for children, includes survivor voices in each section and a human rights-based approach is followed.
  • Pillar 1: Identification
  • Pillar 2: Protection and individual support
  • Pillar 3: Access to multi-agency services and social inclusion
  • Pillar 4: Criminal justice and redress

Concluding Remarks and Questions

Question 1: We have a long history of funding NGOs to deliver services, what we don’t have is the involvement of NGOs on decisions made on access to services. How do we bring NGOs into the process of identifying victims?

Phil Brewer: In the UK, the Modern Slavery Unit which is part of the Home Office which has responsibility for the NRM have several focus groups which provides the opportunity for NGOs to have a voice in policy development. It does not work perfectly but it provides the link between frontline NGOs and Government.

Siobhán Mullally: It is important that we recognize the critical role of civil society, for early identification and referral. It is important not to be skeptical of civil society. Multi agency involvement is critical and it helps with criminal justice processes to tackle impunity and end the cycle of re-trafficking. There are many models and examples of good practice which Ireland can look at.

Tatiana Kotlyarenko: The NRM handbook is a multidisciplinary tool which includes civil society. It offers a clear set of coordinated protocols to address the issue of who does what.

Question 2: Does Sheila (Ruhama) think there are any specific ways in which the NRMs should be developed in order to take into account cultural backgrounds of victims?

Sheila Crowley: Listening to the voice of the victim and looking at every step of the NRM from a cultural dimension is critical. The only way you can dismantle a person’s cultural belief (such as juju) is when you give a person stability in their life so they can then question these things from their past.

Closing or proceedings:

  • Department of Justice has established a forum for victims and stakeholders in relation to human trafficking and a subgroup is being established next week to look at what an NRM would look like in Ireland based on learnings from today and based on forthcoming EU Commission comparative report.
  • Department of Justice intend to bring a piece to Government by the end of the year.
  • 2016 National Action Plan on Human Trafficking and it is on the agenda to review this and bring it up to date.