x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Authorities record small rise in trafficking

Government documents 11 cases so far this year, highlighting residency restrictions that make it difficult for gangs to operate.

DUBAI // There have been 11 documented cases of human trafficking in the UAE so far this year, a Government official said yesterday. The final report has yet to come, but so far authorities believe there were two more cases than last year, said Dr Said al Ghafly, the chief executive of the Ministry of State for Federal National Council Affairs.

"Most victims of trafficking in the UAE are women who are brought from Asian countries and forced into prostitution," he said. The preliminary numbers were announced by Dr al Ghafly yesterday at a symposium to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was organised by Dubai Police at the Dubai Women's College. When asked about international reports that put the number of human-trafficking cases in the UAE much higher, Dr al Ghafly said there was no evidence to support those claims.

Last week Dubai Police arrested four Bangladeshi men who allegedly preyed on vulnerable women, brought them to Dubai and forced them into prostitution or sold them into slavery. The UAE has faced international pressure to review its human rights practices in the past, for using child jockeys in camel racing. The practice was banned and as part of a joint effort launched in 2005, more than 1,000 jockeys were sent home to their families, Dr al Ghafly said.

In 2006 the Government passed a law to combat human trafficking, approving harsh penalties for those convicted extending to life in prison. The Ministry of Social Affairs is drafting a law to protect children's rights that is expected to be finished by the end of the year. And this month, the UAE's record was reviewed for the first time when a delegation appeared before the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"Due to the UAE being a business and multicultural hub with a growing number of foreigners, it is a target to attract human traffickers like any other country in the world," said Dr al Ghafly. "However, the fact that it is not that easy to obtain a visa or residency in the country makes it difficult for traffickers to practise in the country." The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children is housing 45 people, including 19 children, providing them with shelter, food, clothing, health care and financial support, Afra al Basti, the foundation's chief executive, said on the sidelines of the symposium.

She said many of those at the shelter, particularly girls aged 15 to 18, arrived after escaping human-trafficking attempts. They come from 40 countries, including those in the former Soviet Union, Africa, throughout the Middle East, Bangladesh and the Philippines. "They come from different countries but all have the same story," she said. "They are promised a good job and pay by the traffickers, who are usually of their own people. They are told they will work in shops, cafes, restaurants, bars or as babysitters. But instead they are brought in and put in hidden houses and flats so that they do not have a chance to identify their location or the city landscape. They are then subjected to a sexual attack by their captors to give them a taste of what to expect."

They are only freed if they have a chance to run away, or through a police sting operation, she said. Also speaking on the sidelines of the symposium was Ruth Freedom Pojman, the deputy co-ordinator from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). She said most women who are caught up in such operations become so traumatised they do not even realise they are victims. "Victims have no self-confidence and often blame themselves for their situation," she said. "Human trafficking is an international problem. There is a lot of growth, change and migration taking place in the world. It is the dark side of globalisation."

rabubaker@thenational.ae