x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Police rescue more trafficking victims

Dubai Police last year rescued 34 victims of human trafficking, mostly women. The figure represents a 70 per cent increase over the year before.

DUBAI // Dubai Police last year rescued 34 victims of human trafficking, mostly women. The figure represents a 70 per cent increase over the year before. The force also recorded a one-third jump in the number of human trafficking cases, up to 23 last year, according to its annual report about the problem.

All the trafficking cases, apart from one which involved the selling of children, led to forced prostitution. Children were involved in about 12 per cent of cases, while all the others involved women. Police officials attributed the increase in the number of registered cases to several factors, including a growing awareness among officers to the crime, as well as increased poverty in the victims' countries of origin.

More than half of the victims were between the ages of 19 and 25, and about 60 per cent had only primary education. "The economic situation and the level of education are two main factors in making certain individuals easier targets for human trafficking gangs," said Major Gen Khamis Mattar al Mazeina, the deputy police chief. Among the victims were some absconding maids who fell into the hands of human trafficking gangs. The report did not reveal how many women fell into this category.

"These gangs blackmail absconding maids through threatening to report them to police as they are illegal in the country. Unfortunately the maids, fearing being penalised for staying illegally in the country, choose to stay with the gang," said Lt Col Sultan al Jamal, director of the force's Centre for Monitoring Human Trafficking. "I urge any absconding maid not to fall for such blackmailing and approach the centre for help," he said.

Police officials said human trafficking crimes were complex and difficult to investigate. "It is difficult to categorise the charges in human trafficking cases," said Maj Gen al Mazeina. There were 76 suspects involved in human trafficking crimes last year. About a quarter of the suspects were women and more than 60 per cent of all cases had more than one suspect. "These cases are by nature organised and demand special investigation methods, therefore they come under our organised crime department," said Maj Gen al Mazeina.

One of the biggest challenges facing the force, according to Maj Gen al Mazeina, is to differentiate between victims of trafficking and those who are voluntarily involved in prostitution. "We need to raise the level of awareness and develop the skills of our police force in order to overcome this challenge. Police officers need to search for trafficking cases and look in depth in certain incidents to discover human trafficking cases," said Maj Gen al Mazeina.

The force has sent some 65 officers overseas for special training into how to combat human trafficking. Another 100 officers have been trained locally. The police have also provided training to about 300 people working in various institutions on how to spot and help trafficking victims, and have organised events, such as a forum on the topic. "It is important to raise awareness in society as a whole, as criminals take advantage of people's ignorance to achieve their aims," said Maj Gen al Mazeina.

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DUBAI // The Centre for Monitoring Human Trafficking at Dubai Police has a broad mandate. Not only did it intensify its efforts to combat trafficking, it also stepped in to resolve more than 800 labour disputes last year. It was set up in February under 2006 federal guidelines, which prescribe penalties that include fines of up to Dh1 million (US$270,000) for human trafficking crimes. There are various departments within the centre, including one that monitors the working and living conditions of the expatriate workforce. The department has two divisions - one dealing with inspections and precautionary campaigns and the other with labour protests. About 88 of the disputes were collective disputes. The majority were about unpaid salaries, according to Dubai Police human trafficking annual report. However, the report did not disclose the number of workers involved in the disputes or the amount recovered by the centre. The estimated expatriate workforce registered at the Ministry of Labour is 4.1 million, about half of whom live in Dubai. "We are closely monitoring the conditions of this workforce to ensure that they are enjoying the rights they have been entitled in the law," said Lt Col Sultan al Jamal, the centre's director. The centre also helped 189 workers who were living in abandoned houses. moving them to a temporary shelter. They also inspected 874 labour accommodations out of which 321 were found to be breaking health and safety rules. * Wafa Issa