x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

'Human trafficking' Filipinas await return of their passports

Two Filipinas in Dubai who claimed to be victims of human trafficking are now seeking help from their government to return home.

ABU DHABI // Two Filipinas in Dubai who claimed to be victims of human trafficking are now seeking help from their government to return home. Nhel Morona, the secretary general of the UAE branch of Migrante, a group set up to protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos overseas, said he referred the two women to the assistance to nationals section at the Philippine consulate in Dubai this week.

They identified themselves only by their pseudonyms, Kim and Bunny. Both have been working as part-time catering staff in Dubai on expired tourist visas. Mr Morona said that when Kim, 25, arrived in the country in August 2008 a man took her passport and she was sent to an accommodation in Deira. She claimed she was forced into prostitution, but managed to escape after three months. Last year, Kim met Bunny, 28, who had arrived on a tourist visa in Dubai in September.

"Bunny managed to escape at the airport when she learned of the plan to force her into prostitution," he said. The pair already have air tickets to Manila but their passports remain with the individuals who sponsored their original tourist visas: Bunny's is with a travel agency, while Kim's is held by a Filipino who is on a visa run to Kish Island in Iran. A consulate officer in Dubai said they were now assisting the women to retrieve their passports so they could return home.

"They've been overstaying in the UAE and should have approached us earlier," the officer said. She said that if the women had come to them earlier, the consulate could have contacted the traffickers - the women had their mobile phone numbers - "and obliged her or him to provide an air ticket to the Philippines". This case comes after police earlier this month arrested a "criminal gang" of 17 Filipinos in Abu Dhabi on suspicion of trafficking. They were caught in a police raid after a woman who had been trafficked and was being held captive called the police.

Of the 17 arrested, three women and one man were suspected of operating the syndicate. Another four women were detained after they were suspected of voluntarily engaging in prostitution. "Our government should be serious in its efforts to combat human trafficking," Mr Morona said. "Those involved should be prosecuted and sent to jail." Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said the gang's nine victims, who were also arrested, are staying in the shelter at the Abu Dhabi Human Trafficking Centre. The Criminal Investigation Division is investigating the sponsors who issued the tourist visas for the victims and a court hearing has yet to be scheduled. Ms Princesa said Friday that they were co-ordinating with Abu Dhabi authorities on the case to prevent more illegal recruitment, human trafficking and the victimising of Filipinas heading to the Emirates.

On July 21, Manila's foreign affairs department said it was recommending the blacklisting of the Filipino traffickers and was referring the case to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking. The council serves as the co-ordinating and monitoring mechanism on all anti-human trafficking efforts of the Philippine government. Nasser Munder, the labour attache in Abu Dhabi, said the traffickers should not be allowed to work overseas and victimise more women. He said the case also provided a cautionary tale for other women considering coming to the UAE, as the victims travelled on tourist visas and were lured into jobs that were non-existent.

"They had no assurance of getting a job here," he said. "The women should have applied for jobs through licensed recruitment agencies in the Philippines." @Email:rruiz@thenational.ae