UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (TIER 2 Watch List) [Extracted from U.S. State Dept TIP Report, June 2009]
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a destination for men and women, predominantly from South and Southeast Asia, trafficked for the purposes of labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Migrant workers, who comprise more than 90 percent of the UAE’s private sector workforce, are recruited from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, and the Philippines. Women from some of these countries travel willingly to work as domestic servants or administrative staff, but some are subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor, including unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats, or physical or sexual abuse. Trafficking of domestic workers is facilitated by the fact that the normal protections provided to workers under UAE labor law do not apply to domestic workers, leaving them more vulnerable to abuse. Similarly, men from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are drawn to the UAE for work in the construction sector, but are often subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude and debt bondage – often by exploitative “agents” in the sending countries – as they struggle to pay off debts for recruitment fees that sometimes exceed the equivalent of two years’ wages. Some women from Eastern Europe, South East Asia, the Far East, East Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco reportedly are trafficked to the UAE for commercial sexual exploitation. Some foreign women also are reportedly recruited for work as secretaries or hotel workers by third-country recruiters and coerced into prostitution or domestic servitude after arriving in the UAE.
The vulnerability of some migrant workers to trafficking likely increased towards the end of the reporting period as a global economic decline – noted particularly in the construction sector, the UAE’s largest single employer of foreign workers – saw many laborers repatriated to their home countries where they still owed debts. Unpaid construction workers often were defrauded or forced to continue working without pay, as they faced threats that protests may destroy any chance of recovering wages owed to them. By the unique nature of their work in homes, domestic workers were generally isolated from the outside world making it difficult for them to access help. Restrictive sponsorship laws for foreign domestic workers often gave employers power to control their movements and left some of them vulnerable to exploitation.
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, and increasingly public, efforts to do so. Although the government demonstrated sustained efforts to prosecute and convict sex trafficking offenders during the year and made modest progress to provide protections to female trafficking victims, there were no discernable anti-trafficking efforts against the forced labor of temporary migrant workers and domestic servants. The UAE historically has not recognized people forced into labor as trafficking victims, particularly if they are over the age of 18 and entered the country voluntarily; therefore, the United Arab Emirates is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.
Recommendations for the UAE: Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking offenses, particularly those involving labor exploitation, and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including recruitment agents (both locals and non-citizens) and employers who subject others to forced labor; develop and institute formal procedures for law enforcement and Ministry of Labor officials to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as workers subjected to labor abuses, those apprehended for violations of immigration laws, domestic workers who have fled their employers, and foreign females in prostitution; improve protection services for victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, including adequate and accessible shelter space, referral to available legal aid, and credible recourse for obtaining financial restitution; consider sustaining and expanding the pilot program involving recruitment of foreign laborers in key source countries in order to eliminate recruitment fraud and other contributing factors to debt bondage and forced labor; ensure trafficking victims are not incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; consider conducting interviews of potential trafficking victims in safe and non-threatening environments with trained counselors (preferably conversant in the victims’ language); collaborate with sending countries of laborers and domestic workers on investigations of recruiting agencies that engage in trafficking; and work proactively with NGOs to provide services for victims and educate both employers and workers on the practices that constitute human trafficking, and how to prevent them.
During the year, a member of a UAE ruling family and six of her traveling party were charged by a Belgian court for subjecting at least 17 Asian and Middle Eastern girls into forced labor as domestic servants.
Potential victims of labor trafficking – likely the most prevalent form of trafficking in the UAE – were not offered shelter or counseling or immigration relief by the government during the reporting period. The government regularly referred potential victims, who had been working in the formal sector, to the MOL to file complaints through administrative labor resolution channels; this did not apply to domestic workers. Unlike other laborers, domestic workers were not covered by UAE’s labor law and had little recourse to protection from abuse. This administrative remedy is not a sufficient deterrent to the serious crime of trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. Several unofficial shelters were in operation, and supported hundreds of female domestic workers who fled their employers – termed “runaways” in the UAE – and who reported conditions of forced labor at the hands of their employers. The UAE government, however, did not initiate any reported investigations or prosecutions of forced labor offenses associated with these victims. Together with the Government of Mauritania, the UAE government closed the cases of 560 Mauritanian children who had been trafficked to the UAE as camel jockeys in previous years, and had been removed from their exploitation and repatriated; the UAE government continued funding a UNICEF program that provides rehabilitation assistance to these and other repatriated child camel jockeys from Sudan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Police and immigration officials in Abu Dhabi and Dubai received training on identification and appropriate care of trafficking victims during the year.