ABU DHABI // Law enforcement officers are being trained in the capital to better identify and interview victims of human trafficking at a three-day UN regional training workshop.
Police, immigration and government officials from the UAE and other Gulf nations were told yesterday that they should not intimidate victims of human trafficking or treat them as criminals.
"We tried to focus on the proper forms of treatment," said Elobaid Ahmed Elobaid, the head of the centre of the UN Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region in Doha. "They are victims, they are not accused. So if they come [to us] they should be accorded treatment different from the perpetrators."
Officers at the conference, which ends today, were also given tips on the appropriate etiquette for an interview, how to meet with victims, pay attention to their psychology, and put them at ease.
"The burden is on the law enforcement officer to create a comfortable environment," Mr Elobaid said, adding that training also focused on having a translator and understanding the culture and background of the victims.
Government officers from law and interior ministries from more than 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region had gathered for the workshops at the Rocco Forte Hotel. The event was organised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ministry of Interior.
Mr Elobaid said even though the UAE had the political will and the commitment to tackle trafficking, a "lot needs to be done on capacity building".
UN officials said authorities should actively identify cases.
"Victims of trafficking do not always report cases," said Youla Haddadin, adviser on Trafficking with the OHCHR. "They are threatened or afraid. Police officials should be proactive ... It is important to understand the global network of traffickers."
Forced labour and sexual exploitation were the most common forms of trafficking in the Emirates and the region, she said.
Last year, the UAE recorded about 58 human trafficking cases - including forced labour, labour exploitation and sale of children - and 152 victims. About 170 people were accused of committing these crimes. In the previous year, 43 cases and 86 victims had been registered. The country's annual trafficking report released in April this year attributed the increase to rising awareness.
"In the UAE, we say we have sex trafficking and we are combatting them," said Maj Dr Rashed Al Nuaimi, an officer at the Human Rights department of the Interior Ministry. "The numbers are increasing because of our training. No country can stop trafficking."
He said that to prevent child trafficking, immigration officers were regularly trained to verify if the age given in passports matched with the person trying to enter the country.
Isolation, the lack of identity papers, traces of physical abuse and fear of exploiters were some ways to identify victims, a trainer at the workshop said.
"In general, human trafficking needs capacity building for law enforcement," said Adel Maged, an Egyptian judge and Arab League expert on combatting human trafficking.
"We are assisting in enhancing the UAE's capacity in investigating human trafficking cases and to build their investigative strategies," said Mr Maged, one of the trainers.
A handbook, the Commentary on the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, was launched in Arabic by Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking.
Ms Ezeilo was in the country on the invitation of the Government, in an attempt to strengthen the state's role in reducing trafficking.