x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A genuine will to combat human trafficking bane

Well-defined labour policies and international police cooperation are vital if human and sexual trafficking are to be eliminated.

It wasn't that long ago that the issue of human trafficking was a taboo subject in the Arab world and left to fester. But the UAE - often more than other countries in the region - has openly confronted the problem. And a complicated problem it is, running the gamut from prostitution to modern-day slavery.

Today's arrival of the United Nations special rapporteur on trafficking in persons is a good step in sorting through this tangle. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the UN envoy, will have the Government's support during her week-long investigation into trafficking in the UAE; Abu Dhabi requested her visit last year, just one of three Middle East states to do so (the others being Saudi Arabia and Kuwait).

Forced prostitution, child sexual abuse and other forms of victimisation associated with human trafficking are global problems. There has been progress in the last couple of years on eliminating the root causes of trafficking, but the highly transient population and large foreign workforce make this a vexing problem with no easy solutions.

As Ms Ezeilo said from Geneva last week, her visit to Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi will be to gather evidence from advocates and victims "so that their voices are heard and can be considered in the development of national laws, policies and measures related to trafficking in persons".

The UN considers any person "exploited" for economic gain to be a victim of trafficking. But victims involved in prostitution suffer particularly. What makes this problem more complicated is the interplay between labour policies and prostitution. Too often victims arrive through labour loopholes. As one Uzbek victim told Al Jazeera in 2009, she was duped into accepting a job offer in Dubai by an unscrupulous recruiter at home. When she arrived she was forced into prostitution by means of a threat to her family at home.

Better-defined labour policies and international police cooperation are part of an effective strategy to eliminate the causes of human and sexual trafficking. But immediately, what's needed are additional programmes and support services for victims. A handful of shelters have been opened across the UAE in recent years, but more are needed.

Ms Ezeilo's arrival this week should be seen as an opportunity to accelerate implementation of victim-orientated approaches. Now that the region is talking openly about this problem, we can all battle this scourge effectively.