A few months ago, I met with an old childhood friend who is currently undertaking a PhD in the UK on human trafficking. While reminiscing about growing up on the Isle of Man, we wondered if trafficking was an issue on the Island. For those unfamiliar with the Isle of Man, it is in the middle of the Irish Sea, population 84,497; the main source of income is the provision of financial services and its status as a tax haven. Of the resident population, only 4%, as of 2001, were born outside the British Isles. Multi-cultural and ethnically diverse, the Island is not. But, more recently, there has been an increase in work permits issued to non-European Economic Area (EAA) nationals: “During 2005/06 NI [national insurance – tied to holding a work permit] numbers were issued to people from Poland (271), India (155), South Africa (148) and the Philippines (76).” Sadly, more recent figures don’t seem to be available.
Considering the extensive coastline of the island, the increasing numbers of wealthy residents, both Manx born and from the UK, and the relative economic boom which has seen increased non-EU immigrants take up roles in the service and healthcare industries, the conditions seem ripe for trafficking and exploitation to at least have featured on the radar of the Island’s authorities. Further, the increased consumption of illegal drugs, pretty much all of which are imported, points to the presence of some level of organised criminal activity. For example, a survey in 2008 found that half of the Island’s prison population were detained for drug offences. The main source of these drugs was Merseyside in England, with 95% of all drugs coming from this source. My friend and I recounted rumours that the Island had functioned as a transit point for IRA weapons during the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland, pointing to its strategic location and potential stopping point in the transportation of illegal goods. While we are not suggesting that the Isle of Man is full of hardened criminal “syndicates” that are expanding their criminal empires from guns, to drugs, to people in reflection of the increased wealth of the island, we are highlighting the fact that the conditions noted above point to the potential for the movement of people onto the island for the purposes of exploitation.
The Isle of Man falls within the Common Travel Area (CTA) which also consists of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and the Bailiwick of Jersey. In the words of the UK Border Agency:
The UK does not make routine immigration checks on passenger travel within the CTA, and passengers are not required to carry a passport or national identity document for immigration purposes. The CTA is a ‘free movement’ zone, based on the principle that a person who has been allowed to enter one part of the CTA will not normally require permission to enter another part of it while that permission is extent (provided they do not leave the CTA).
The Island’s immigration regime is broadly in line with that of the UK, though with a number of key differences. For example, there is no provision for refugees or asylum seekers:
The Isle of Man (and the Channel Islands) benefit from an arrangement with the United Kingdom Government whereby it will accept the return of asylum seekers in cases where the individual concerned, having arrived here [the Isle of Man] via the UK, would have had opportunity to claim asylum in the UK.
This only became an issue in 2006, when the Island received its first asylum seeker. The accompanying confusion exposed the limitations of the Manx migration regime and perhaps led to local advocates brushing off their immigration law textbooks from law school.
What makes the Isle of Man different from the UK and Ireland is that the trafficking and exploitation narrative seems to be wholly absent from its immigration framework. Guidance for employers on preventing illegal working, for instance, notes:
A minority of employers also exploit illegal workers by not paying them the minimum wage and failing to protect their health and safety in the workplace. These exploitative practices often enable unscrupulous employers to gain an unfair advantage over legitimate competitors. It is crucial that the Isle of Man Government works together with employers to ensure that illegal workers [considered to be migrants who are in the Isle of Man illegally and working, or migrants who are here lawfully, but working in breach of their conditions of stay] cannot readily obtain work in the Island. We will also continue to take tough action against those employers who seek to profit from exploiting illegal labour.
Worryingly absent from this Guidance is any concern about the workers themselves. There is also no real understanding of the phrase “tough action”, though one assumes this is reference to prosecution.
The need to engage more robustly with this issue is not restricted to land-based exploitation; equally vulnerable are workers in the Irish Sea. Our previous post on trafficked fisherman highlighted some of the challenges faced by this group including a lack of clear jurisdiction for state intervention and protection. This issue also needs to be considered for the Isle of Man, as a recent story in Isle of Man News showed:
Five Georgian sailors, stranded on the Nigerian-owned ex-Admiralty tug boat Juliette Pride II, in Douglas harbour since mid-December have spoken of their gratitude to the Manx people….The crew, … were escorted by the Port St Mary lifeboat into Peel harbour while travelling from Greenock to their final destination of Ghana, with their African captain, via Cornwall. …The crew have had problems receiving their salaries and after negotiations by the Isle of Man harbour authorities and Cain’s Advocates with the ship’s owner on their behalf, will now fly home while the captain awaits a new crew.
What is striking is how obvious it seems that the conditions in the situation above indicate the potential for exploitation. It does not appear that this potential was really explored by the police or indeed other government agencies; rather the emphasis seems to have been on acquiring compensation for the sailors, i.e. solving only the most immediate problem faced rather than a more in-depth examination of their situation. This is particularly significant as the article notes that a new crew will take over the ship – what protection are in place for this group of people? It may well be that there was either no exploitation or that the Manx authorities had the situation under control, but one can’t help wondering!
While TTRP have pointed out that the hysteria about trafficking is often misplaced, misguided and downright dangerous on occasion, the other end of the spectrum contains places like the Isle of Man, where such a concept has no resonance at all. There are also broader concerns about the nature of the exploitation on an island which has seen increased immigration into low paid jobs. The consequence is that there is no system to either prevent the occurrence of trafficking or address the needs of victims, either in providing access to justice or more straightforward assistance. It appears that trafficking has also barely featured on the register of the governments in Jersey and Guernsey; trafficking appears to be restricted to sex trafficking paradigm. For example, a recent speaker in Guernsey, from the A21 campaign, “formed to seek out sex slaves globally and help those rescued find a way back to a normal life”, claimed:
The problem is that so many of us are unaware of the enormity of the whole global sex-trafficking industry. It is enormous, making criminals £32bn every year, so you can see what we are up against. But what I wanted to do in Guernsey was get the message out that nobody is immune, not even young girls in your lovely island.
Last week’s post by Khara Glackin presented some of the challenges faced by the state in addressing forced labour. There is much in common between Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man: rural, close-knit communities, a primarily ethnically homogeneous population, the economic importance of agriculture and thus potentially migrant labour. Research into some aspects of the food production industry in Northern Ireland found, for example:
Many of the people who were working in the mushroom industry were living in rural areas and close to the farms on which they were working and were thus relatively isolated from the wider society and although they were not physically confined, their housing context and low wages did reinforce a sense of isolation.
The challenges offered by situations of human trafficking and exploitation in rural areas are significant. If an individual is able to escape a situation, their ability to access any form of assistance may be more difficult than in urban areas; further, if an individual has been kept isolated, their knowledge about whom to tell about their situation may be limited. Additionally, in the Manx context, the police force is relatively small and often well known to the community. If an individual was an exploited farm worker, they may well have concerns about their ability to report a crime and be taken seriously. Though, arguably, the small size of community may instead mean that local people will realise more quickly if something is amiss.
Either way, we argue that it is important that the Manx government engages with the potential for this crime to take place both on the Island and in the water surrounding it and to mitigate the risk of such an occurrence accordingly. This should include, for example, making sure that the importation of all labour requiring a work permit, e.g. everyone who is not Manx, is appropriately monitored, including the adequate regulation of recruitment agents; that mechanisms are in place to allow workers to complain of abuse; the development of a concise (and non-hysterical) awareness raising campaign including information for migrants on where to get help; education sessions with existing community groups, e.g. for the Filipino community; and that the criminal justice system is educated on this issue. The government needs to walk a fine line between developing an awareness of the issues, developing a nuanced and contextual policy response catered to the needs of the local community and creating an unnecessary panic. We would, as usual, advocate that the Manx government look at undertaking a small scoping study to see if there are cases of exploitation and trafficking either on the Island or in the Irish Sea and ensuring that the relevant legal framework is in place to ensure protection and assistance where required.