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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Visa amnesty success has laid foundations for change

Now is the time to tackle unscrupulous employers and help those most in need

Renuka Sanjeewani and husband Anura Jayasurya pictured in Rolla Park, Sharjah, where they lived for two weeks
Renuka Sanjeewani and husband Anura Jayasurya pictured in Rolla Park, Sharjah, where they lived for two weeks

The vast majority of people in the UAE will be sickened by the treatment of the Sri Lankan husband and wife Anura Jayasurya and Renuka Sanjeewani. Duped into coming to Dubai by a fraudulent employment agent in their home country with the false promise of good jobs and a better life, they found themselves imprisoned in an Ajman villa, forced to work for no pay, long after their visas had expired. When they finally escaped, they felt they had nowhere to turn, so resorted to sleeping rough in a Sharjah park. The couple were found by fellow Sri Lankans, who worked with the embassy and UAE authorities to ensure that they will returned safely home on Saturday.

These are exactly the sort of people the government’s three-month amnesty visa, which ends tomorrow, was designed to help. An exercise in compassion and pragmatism, it has allowed hundreds stranded illegally in the UAE − some of whom had been living in fear and hiding for years − to go home or continue working legally in the UAE without penalty. However, now it is clear that an amnesty alone is not enough.

For such violations of the most basic human rights to be curtailed, the victims must feel confident that they can turn to the authorities for help when they most need it. In light of the the amnesty's many successes, perhaps it is time to set up a federal department for this express purpose.

Reaching out to the victims of these injustices is one part of the equation, but the tougher task of stamping out such abominable practices must also be met head on. The vile behaviour of unscrupulous overseas agents who profit from the misery of others is a matter for their own governments, upon which the UAE must continue to place pressure. But steps must also be taken to crack down on employers in the UAE, whose greed and inhumanity creates this shameful market. Let there be no mistake − this is an affront to human decency.

The UN estimates that around the world 25 million people are held in conditions of forced labour. We must not rest until not one of them is to be found here.