ABU DHABI // A new law was promised yesterday to protect domestic staff from exploitation by human traffickers.
"The legislation process takes time, but very soon," said Dr Abdul Rahim Yousif Al Awadi, assistant Foreign Minister for legal affairs.
Dr Al Awadi was speaking at the launch of a report revealing that of 35 trafficking victims in Dubai, all but four thought they were coming for work and 19 had been promised work as maids.
"Recruiters promise them there is a job opportunity, but when they come there is nothing, and most are pushed into prostitution," said Dr Mona Al Bahar, director of care and rehabilitation at the Dubai Foundation for Women.
Of the 35 women, 27 discovered they had been trafficked within a week of arriving in the UAE - either by being told their job promise was false, or by being subjected to physical abuse. Nine out of ten trafficked women suffered sexual abuse.
Dr Al Awadi said the UAE was making every effort to prevent trafficking. "This year we will increase awareness campaigns in airports, including Dubai airport," he said.
Most of the trafficked women were poorly educated, with more than half having either no education, or only to primary level.
"They usually recruit people from poor communities, very desperate," said Dr Al Bahar, a member of the Federal National Council. "Very rarely they recruit someone educated with a career."
Not all were duped. Two of the women in Dubai came in the full knowledge that they were doing so for the purposes of prostitution. "They say it frankly. We still consider them victims, and we take them in," she said.
Dr Al Awadi said most of the women lived in fear. "I think the biggest challenges … is to protect them, make them feel safe, that they are in safe hands."
The Government is amending its human trafficking law to ensure victims are given access to psychological and medical help, as well as the existing shelters.
The UAE Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, which compiled the report, now offers training to police and other authorities on dealing with trafficking victims. Women can also call a hotline for help.
"I think now the victims of trafficking are more aware of agencies that can take care of them, so they are coming out themselves," Dr Al Awadi said.
Embassies and consulates were also helping push victims to report crimes. "The victims can either go to the shelter directly, or to the police," he said.
Dr Al Bahar conceded that many still did not, as they were often kept in isolation and without documents.
The report said the internet was increasingly being used to lure women to the UAE, with a recent case of three women from Latin America lured by a website, and another of a Filipina being promised a job on Facebook only to be pushed into prostitution.
The report also noted evidence of the sale of children, labour exploitation and forced labour.
In 2012, 75 women were recorded as victims of trafficking, almost half in Dubai. Police arrested 149 people on trafficking charges, of whom 91 were convicted, with sentences ranging from a year to life imprisonment.
"I don't like the number going up, but if the crime is there and people are able to catch it, then our work is paying off," said Dr Al Awadi.