x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Refuge seeks support for abused

The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children launches a public awareness campaign.

A caseworker and a woman receiving counselling walk through the courtyard at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.
A caseworker and a woman receiving counselling walk through the courtyard at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.

DUBAI // A refuge for abused women and children has launched a public awareness campaign. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children has produced literature and ribbon badges to raise awareness about domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking. Opened last October, the foundation is the country's sole registered and licensed shelter providing a safe haven for victims of abuse.

"Issues surrounding abuse are sensitive and often thought to be taboo topics," said Afra al Basti, chief executive of the foundation. "But we have launched this awareness campaign to educate people that violence against women and children happens all over the world. "We know that this is a problem in Dubai because we see it on the faces of the women and children who walk through our doors. What we do not see are the women and children who are victimised and suffering in silence. It is important to make people understand that abuse does happen, because then we can try to stop it."

The foundation was opened following a decree issued by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in line with the United Nations's Women's Convention, of which the UAE is a signatory. It provides shelter, advice, counselling, medical care, support groups, case management and financial and legal services. Its location is a closely guarded secret. As part of the campaign, the foundation has produced green ribbons similar to those used in international breast cancer and Aids awareness campaigns.

"It is all about getting the message across," said Mrs Basti. "We want people to know that there is somewhere they can go if they are experiencing abuse, but also for abusers to know that there are groups trying to stop this. "It is not an easy responsibility, it is a huge responsibility and I think with the qualified staff we now have, we can make a difference." The foundation works closely with a number of partners including the courts, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Social Affairs and various embassies.

"I really think our message is getting through, we are helping more and more women and children all the time. We have good co-operation from the police who now understand our role. "Before we started operating the police were looking for places where they could keep these ladies who are not criminals, they are honest, poor girls who have been abused." One of the main focus areas for the foundation is human trafficking. In June 2008, the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report upgraded the UAE from the Tier 2 Watch List to the Tier 2 List, defined as countries making significant efforts to comply with international standards.

Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, has said the Government is working to make further improvements and do everything possible to combat human trafficking. The UN report identifies the UAE as a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of labour and sexual exploitation. It is predominantly the latter which the foundation deals with. Mrs Basti is currently working with the UN Office on Crime and Drugs, the International Organisation for Migration and Dubai Police to try to gain access to the perpetrators of human trafficking in the UAE. The aim is to try to help stop the problem by educating them about the effects trafficking has on the victims.

"This is a big area for the foundation, I want to educate people about the effects of this type of abuse, including the traffickers," Mrs Basti said. In May, it was revealed that the shelter was taking in girls as young as 14 who were tricked into leaving their home countries on the promise of a better life, not knowing they would be forced into prostitution. At a Ramadan fund-raising iftar, Mrs Basti said human trafficking was the fastest growing type of organised crime targeting women and children internationally. She added that "Dubai is not an exception".

One of the latest developments at the shelter is plans to introduce a medical clinic with a nurse on call 24 hours a day. Mrs Basti said: "We have done a lot of good work and helped a lot of victims, now we are creating space for another 150 women and children, we still have lots of work left to do." The shelter also operates a 24-hour helpline to those seeking advice on all kinds of abusive relationships. Because of its links with the police and medical services, distress calls can be acted upon immediately. The helpline number is 800 111