x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE efforts on human trafficking 'significant'

US State Department removes country from watch list.

The UAE has been removed from a United States "watch list" on human trafficking after improvements in tackling the problem within the sex trade. But the Government still needs to step up its efforts to combat forced labour, according to a report by the US State Department. The 2010 Trafficking in Persons report, released yesterday, found that the Emirates is making "significant efforts" against human trafficking.

This has prompted the department to upgrade the UAE to its Tier 2 List from its Tier 2 Watch List. The rankings run from Tier 1 at best to Tier 3 at worst. Luis CdeBaca, the head of the State Department's office to monitor and combat human trafficking, said police in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi had increased their efforts. "We are starting to see cases going through the court, victims heard and liberated, and see commitment on part of the Government," he said. "That kind of political will is the beginning to new openness."

He said the UAE still needed to work on victim support and eliminate restrictions on who could be admitted to shelters. The report cited labour-related trafficking cases as another area of weakness that remains, saying there were "no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for more prevalent forced labour offences" last year. Over the past year, the Government had made progress in the prosecution of sex traffickers and "modest progress" in protecting women identified as trafficking victims, the report said.

"However, there were no discernible anti-trafficking efforts against the forced labour of temporary migrant workers and domestic servants," it said. The annual report, produced for the past 10 years, is regarded as an important benchmark in measuring national responses to modern-day slavery. Government officials were unavailable for comment yesterday. The UAE's National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking released its own annual report last month. It showed that the number of human trafficking cases taken to court in 2009 was more than double the previous year. The report said 43 cases went to court in 2009, involving 86 trafficking victims. At the time, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and the head of the committee, pointed to the progress made, but said the number of reported crimes did not necessarily represent the scope of the abuse. "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. Since passing federal legislation on trafficking in 2006, known as Law 51, the Government has stepped up efforts to combat such crimes. Those found guilty can face life imprisonment and hefty fines. But while there has been a steady increase in the number of convictions, the state department report concluded that Law 51 was not being used to prosecute labour trafficking offences, which it described as a "major gap in the UAE's anti-trafficking efforts". The report described how some migrant workers brought to the UAE can face forced labour conditions in which their passports and wages are withheld, their movement is restricted and they face sexual and physical abuse. Some people had been lured to the UAE with promises of non-existent work opportunities, including women who were later forced into prostitution, the report said. Migrant workers who come to work in the construction industry "are often subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude and debt bondage as they struggle to pay off debts for recruitment fees", it said. Foreign domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, according to the report, due to what it called "restrictive" sponsorship laws. "The Government of the United Arab Emirates does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so," the report said. Among the recommendations outlined in the two-page section on the UAE were calls for the Government to utilise the recently created human trafficking unit attached to the Ministry of Labour. The state department urged the UAE to "identify, investigate, and prosecute labour trafficking offences", as well as convict those found guilty of trafficking crimes, including recruitment agents and employers responsible for forced labour. The recommendations included a call for officials to be more proactive in identifying victims of trafficking, particularly among high-risk groups.
zconstantine@thenational.ae * With additional reportingby Hala Khalaf