The cases are 'just the tip of the iceberg' but the drop in numbers is encouraging, says the chief of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking.
Human trafficking prosecutions down, says Gargash
ABU DHABI // The number of prosecutions for human trafficking fell from 58 in 2010 to 37 last year.
Most of the 51 victims and 111 people arrested were in Dubai and Sharjah and sentences ranged from six months in jail to life, the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking reported. Dr Anwar Gargash, the committee chairman, said the cases were "just the tip of the iceberg" but the drop in numbers was a sign of the committee's efforts, and growing awareness.
After a two-year focus on sexual exploitation, cases of trafficked workers are being recognised. "We knew it was there, with such a large number of expatriate workers," hesaid. "Now we must send messages on labour abuse. Finding one or two cases is not a sign of success. "
The report was published on the day a UN monitor said the UAE had displayed a strong commitment to curbing human trafficking but "significant gaps" remained.
Dr Gargash said private companies needed to be monitored most closely for evidence of trafficking in labour.
The report also notes cases of forced labour, and the sale of children.
Turning to the alleged exploitation of workers, the report says almost half (48 per cent) of labour strikes last year were the result of late salaries, with 38 per cent resulting from demands for higher wages. Other causes included non-payment for overtime, unsuitable accommodation, work visas being cancelled without return flights paid for, and poor transport.
Over the course of the year, the Ministry of Labour received 1,500 complaints about late wages, pertaining to 368 companies.
Dr Gargash said a law to protect domestic workers was now awaiting FNC approval before its Presidential passage. The law would regulate the sector and protect maids from abuse, he said.
"The proposal will address a very important gap in the UAE," he said. "It will spark a lot of debate. Many people will think it hasn't done enough, others will think it has gone too far."
Meanwhile, at the end of her first fact-finding mission, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the United Nations special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, asked the UAE to ratify a convention on migrant workers, set up shelters for male victims, collect credible data on sex and labour trafficking and quickly enact a law to protect domestic workers.
"The Government has undoubtedly made significant progress in its efforts to address trafficking in persons in the country, particularly since the enactment in 2006 of the Federal law No 51 on combating human trafficking crimes," said Ms Ezeilo.
She was in the Emirates at the invitation of the Government for a seven-day fact-finding tour, during which she met victims of trafficking, government agencies and members of the judiciary, international and civil society organisations in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Her visit ended yesterday.
She praised the UAE's strides in curbing sex trafficking, noting in particular the "laudable" work of the Dubai Police and its Human Trafficking Crimes Control Centre. She noted, too, that the wage protection system was ensuring timely payment of workers.
However, she called for improvement in the areas of national and international framework, training and capacity, migration, support services for victims of trafficking, prevention and prosecution.
She said the Government must establish "shelters for male victims of labour exploitation as well as male victims of trafficking, in light of the prevalence of labour exploitation of men in the UAE".
Ms Ezeilo also urged the Government to "expand the definition of trafficking" to include labour exploitation, domestic servitude as well as other forms of trafficking such as forced and servile marriages. She said labour trafficking cases remained under-reported and victims unidentified.
A lack of hard data had led to attention being focused almost "exclusively on trafficking for sexual exploitation", she said, and allowed other forms of trafficking to go unrecognised.
Finding a "lack of coherence" between emirates, she called for authorities to draft a comprehensive, nationwide plan of action.
She also strongly pushed for the ratification - without delay - of the UN convention on the human rights of migrant workers and their families, as well as last year's International Labour Organisation convention on rights for domestic workers.
Authorities should consult civil society organisations and experts while drafting a law to protect the rights of domestic workers, she said.
Ms Ezeilo has already briefed the Government on her preliminary findings and will submit her full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June next year.
In the meantime, she hopes the Government will follow up on her recommendations. "They have to give feedback on what they have done. They will have the Universal Periodic Review next year," she said.
Her trip was the third to the UAE by a UN rapporteur, following one in 2009 that focused on racism, and another on child exploitation.
Ms Ezeilo's trip was announced last month by Obaid Salem Al Za'abi, the UAE's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva.
It was also announced yesterday that another initiative intended to curb labour exploitation could soon have a permanent UAE home.
Speaking at the Abu Dhabi Dialogue meeting in the Philippines, Humaid bin Deemas, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour, said Abu Dhabi had offered to host a new centre that would bring the 20 member states closer together to boost labour relations and labour mobility.
Seven destination countries - the GCC and Yemen - are taking part in the process, as well as 13 labour suppliers including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.