x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Eleven arrested over alleged Dubai human-trafficking ring

Raids carried out as a new report details the battle officials are waging against exploitation.

Police have arrested 11 people in Dubai in connection with a human-trafficking ring that allegedly saw a girl as young as 16 forced into prostitution. An Arab man and his partner were charged with trafficking, running a brothel and forcing women into prostitution through violence and intimidation. Nine women were charged with working in their brothel, while two underage girls were taken in by police but not charged. They are being cared for as victims of trafficking. An official with the Department of Naturalisation and Residency was also being investigated by the Ministry of Interior over claims he took bribes, forged the women's visas - often describing them as relatives of the Arab man - and turned a blind eye to violations. The DNRD official's case has been referred to the Ministry of Interior in Abu Dhabi because it violated "national security" and constituted an unprecedented dereliction of duty, according to Amar al Danhani, the public prosecutor. "In the case of the 16-year-old, the man had her on a visa as his daughter and reported her as an absconder with the DNRD," Mr al Danhani said. "The Public Prosecution will punish the perpetrators and apply the full force of the law strongly on them and focus on the victims of these crimes." The arrests came after senior DNRD officials that noticed irregularities in the visa folder of the Arab man. Meanwhile, the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) released its full second annual report yesterday, detailing efforts during the past year against the illegal trade. It claimed significant progress had been made in the fight against human trafficking, but "much more needs to be done". "The Government firmly believes that those who are sexually exploited must be treated as victims, protected and supported through counselling and rehabilitation programmes," the report stated. But the women whose arrests were announced yesterday have been charged with prostitution because "they were not underage", Mr al Danhani said. Those found guilty of trafficking in the UAE face tough penalties prescribed by Law 51, introduced in 2006, including fines of up to Dh1 million (US$272,000). In the report, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and chairman of the NCCHT, described human trafficking as a "critical problem that afflicts our society". "The fight against human trafficking is our fight and a goal we share with all responsible nations," he wrote. "We have accomplished a lot in a short span of time, but we will continue to remain committed to consistently improving our efforts to tackle this crime." According to the report, "Combating Human Trafficking in the UAE - 2008-2009", 20 human trafficking cases were recorded last year, up from 10 in 2007. Dubai dealt with 12 cases, with three in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, and one in both Ajman and Ras al Khaimah. There were convictions in at least six cases, with two life sentences - the maximum penalty under federal anti-trafficking legislation. This year, Dr Gargash called for more prosecutions. However, although more cases are reaching the courts and improvements are being made in efforts against trafficking, Dr Saeed al Ghufli, the co-ordinator of the NCCHT, said more needed to be done to raise public awareness. "There also needs to be more understanding from public prosecutors, the police and labour inspectors about what human trafficking is," he said. "But the UAE has scored well over the last three years, when few knew about this crime and there were no cases in court." The NCCHT was established in 2007 to co-ordinate national efforts against trafficking, including promoting the use of Law 51. The report also detailed support given to trafficking victims, including through the Dubai Women and Children's Foundation, which opened in 2007 and handled 43 trafficking victims between then and December 2008. This year, Ewaa Shelters for Women and Children opened in the capital, where close to 20 victims have sought refuge. At the international level, in 2008 the Government ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. The report also stated that the UAE was working to co-ordinate anti-trafficking efforts and training for local authorities. zconstantine@thenational.ae shafez@thenational.ae