Portadown-based project Freedom Acts has been granted three years of funding from Comic Relief to tackle human trafficking.
The funding was announced just as 16 potential victims of human trafficking were recovered by the PSNI outside Armagh.
“We received confirmation of the funding on Monday,” explained Mel Wiggins, project co-ordinator of Freedom Acts. “It means we have three more years of funding from the Comic Relief ‘Safer Lives’ scheme.”
Operating from the Community Intercultural Programme and based in Foundry Street, Freedom Acts has been working to raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation in the southern area for the past three years.
“We’ve worked with young people, visiting schools and developing resources. With this funding, we plan to add a new member to our current team of two, and push things forward - deepening our influence in the community.”
Sixteen people were rescued by police last Friday as part of a PSNI Organised Crime Investigation.
“This recovery is the second major PSNI operation tackling forced labour the area has seen in the last year - with 20 victims of forced labour recovered in Portadown last August,” Mel said. “This horrific crime strips people of their dignity and human rights, reducing them to commodities. No matter where the victim is from, they are sons, daughters, fathers and mothers; human beings with infinite value.
“It is important that the public know human trafficking is not only sexual exploitation, that men can be victims, and both foreign and local individuals are involved in controlling and contributing to the issue.”
Mel commended the Organised Crime and newly formed Human Trafficking Team within the PSNI for their sensitive approach.
“We implore our fellow community members to be vigilant in looking out for their neighbours, to familiarise themselves with the signs of human trafficking and forced labour (which can be found at www.freedomacts.co.uk) and to report any suspicions or concerns they may have to ensure an effective response from authorities,” she said.