x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Sex trade victims cleared to go home

Eighteen south-east Asian victims of a single human-trafficking operation can travel home as their testimonies is not needed, a judge ruled.

ABU DHABI // Eighteen south-east Asian victims of a single human-trafficking operation can travel home, a judge ruled yesterday. The 10 people accused of trafficking them, however, remain in police custody and appeared at Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance, charged with bringing the women into the country and forcing them into prostitution.

WM, from China, and WA, from Thailand, are accused of leading the trafficking ring and luring the women into the UAE with promises of high-paying massage jobs in Abu Dhabi. Eight other defendants, from China, Thailand and Singapore, were charged with assisting and facilitating the sex trade. After their arrival in May, the women were told that the "massage shop" was not yet open and that they had to work in clubs and hotels to bring in Dh300 each day for rent.

However, one of the girls had spoken to a man on her flight from Bangkok who expressed surprise at the amount of money they had been promised. The man lived in Abu Dhabi and gave them his mobile phone number, telling them to call if they needed help. One of the victims called the man after she realised she had been deceived. He gave her the Thai embassy's contact number, and she called for help.

Just more than a week after the women's arrival, police raided the apartment. Since then, the women have been housed at the Ewaa Shelter, a secure villa in Abu Dhabi. Fatima al Mazrouei, a chief specialist at the shelter, asked Chief Justice Saeed Abdul Baseer of the Criminal Court yesterday to allow the women to go home because the "investigation has finished". The chief justice asked the defence lawyer whether he needed to ask the victims any questions, and the lawyer said "no".

"Then they can travel any time," the chief justice said. Officials at the shelter yesterday said the women were expected to leave the UAE in the next week. They will return with some financial assistance provided by Ewaa to help get them back on their feet. Since opening in January 2009, Ewaa has provided refuge to dozens of trafficked women, most of whom have been forced into prostitution. The shelter falls under the umbrella of the UAE Red Crescent Authority and is supported by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the wife of Sheikh Zayed, the late President of the UAE. Two additional shelters under Ewaa's management - in Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah - are expected to open in the coming weeks. @Email:hhassan@thenational.ae zconstantine@thenational.ae