x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Human trafficking cases double

Most of the cases, 21, occurred in Dubai. Fifteen cases were recorded in Sharjah and the Northern Emirates, and seven in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // The number of human trafficking cases taken to court in 2009 more than doubled over the previous year, largely because of improved public awareness and law-enforcement training, according to a government report released yesterday. The annual report from the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) showed that 43 cases came before the courts in 2009, representing 86 trafficking victims. In 2008, only 20 cases were prosecuted, and 10 in 2007.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and the head of the NCCHT, said the UAE was on the right track. The country "considers human trafficking to be wrong and unacceptable to Islam, Arab culture and the UAE value system", the report said. "The Government believes that human trafficking is a despicable crime and is committed to working to combat this practice in any form." The UAE has made "significant progress", but it "realises that much more needs to be done", it said.

Dr Gargash warned that the number of actual abuses dwarfs that of crimes reported. "In all countries where there are human trafficking cases, the number of cases that reach the court is a drop in the ocean of the overall cases that are going on," he said. In 2009, 125 defendants were prosecuted, and 35 of the 43 cases ended in at least one conviction. Most of the cases, 21, occurred in Dubai. Fifteen cases were recorded in Sharjah and the Northern Emirates, and seven in Abu Dhabi.

The report gives an overview of recorded cases of human trafficking in the UAE, and analyses current practices in legislation, enforcement and victim support. It describes trafficking as a "thriving global business that generates billions of dollars a year", with links to other organised crimes such as drug smuggling. Those convicted of human trafficking received harsher sentences in 2009 than in past years.

That trend seems to be continuing into this year. In January, seven men were sentenced to life in prison for being part of the capital's largest known human trafficking ring, only the second time life sentences were handed out for such a crime in the country. According to the report, it also was the first guilty verdict under the law's "organised criminal gang" clause. The majority of victims are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, with many others ending up in forced labour.

The report highlights the role of criminals who traffic migrant workers to the UAE, and goes on to say that the "criminal activity" often originates in the victims' home countries. "For the majority of trafficked persons, it is only when they arrive in the UAE that they realise that the work they are promised does not exist and they are forced instead to get employment in jobs or conditions to which they did not give their consent," the report states.

Faiza Moussa, a lawyer who deals with human trafficking cases, said the rise in court cases showed the country was fighting trafficking with an "iron fist". The UAE is also under pressure to diversify its economy and boost tourism, she added. Loose tourism visa requirements mean it is easier for someone without a proper income source to enter the country and "the slave mafia can take advantage of these things".

Dr Gargash said the Government was considering several measures to strengthen the anti-trafficking measures. Under consideration are amendments to Federal Law 51, which is used to prosecute traffickers, including ones that would place greater emphasis on the protection and repatriation of victims. Two additional shelters for trafficking victims are being set up as well: one in Ras al Khaimah, which is scheduled to open this month, and another that is likely to be built in Sharjah.

A code of conduct dealing with the sensitive treatment of trafficking victims by police, media, social workers and courts will also be put in place, Dr Gargash said. "These victims come from a background of need, and this is why they were in a situation to be exploited," he said. "The last thing they need as victims is to be treated in an insensitive manner that compromises their dignity." * The National with additional reporting by Kareem Shaheen