Mullingar gardaí are investigating a case of human trafficking as they try to uncover the identity of a Chinese woman who has no passport or papers.
Garda Neil Donnellan arrested 29-year-old Fang Chen, of no fixed abode at Spoutwell Lane in Mullingar on Wednesday last and she is charged with not providing identification documentation.
But a more sinister element to her situation emerged as details of her case were heard in court, prompting Judge Seamus Hughes to note that the gardai and the court will do their utmost to protect her.
Through her solicitor Louis Kiernan and her interpreter Ms Chen described how her family from rural China borrowed the equivalent of €25,000 to pay a trafficker to bring her to Ireland.
She said she wanted to build a better life for her parents, who are in their fifties and her seven-year-old daughter.
She hoped the money she earned here would go back to China and help pay back the debt her family now owes.
The trafficker brought her by plane, train and bus from China to the UK, where she stayed in a variety of hostels, with her food and accommodation paid for in her fees.
The trafficker stayed with her until she came to Ireland, then he left, taking her passport and leaving her with a tiny sum of money which has run out, no English and no qualifications for work.
She slept rough for a while and eventually made contact with some Chinese people in Mullingar through a Chinese discussion forum online and they seem to be caring for her.
She said she did not have to provide sexual services when she came to the UK and Ireland, but Judge Seamus Hughes asked Garda Donnellan to engage the services of Ruhama, the organization supporting women affected by human trafficking and prostitution.
Judge Hughes remanded her in custody for a week to allow gardaí make further investigations on her behalf.
Solicitor Louis Kiernan said the Chinese community in Mullingar will help her organise her identification.
“The girl is in need of protection,” said Judge Seamus Hughes. “The court will be very tolerant and the gardaí too.”