Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December 2014, 12:47 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - United Arab Emirates

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - United Arab Emirates, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee3a46.html [accessed 25 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

United Arab Emirates (Tier 2)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a destination for men and women, predominantly from South and Southeast Asia, who are subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. Migrant workers, who comprise more than 90 percent of the UAE's private sector workforce, are recruited from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, Thailand, Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Philippines. Women from some of these countries travel willingly to the UAE to work as domestic servants, secretaries, and hotel cleaners, but some are subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor, including unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, or physical or sexual abuse. Restrictive sponsorship laws for foreign domestic workers often give employers power to control their movements, threaten them with abuse of legal processes, and make them vulnerable to exploitation. 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 forced labor, including debt bondage as they struggle to pay off debts for recruitment fees. Migrant workers were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in the construction sector, as some employers declared bankruptcy and fled the country, effectively abandoning their employees. Women from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Far East, East Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco are subjected to forced prostitution in the UAE.

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. This year, the government established a special court to hear human trafficking cases in Dubai and opened two new shelters for victims of trafficking. The government continued to prosecute and punish sex trafficking offenders, though its efforts to combat forced labor remained extremely weak. Although the government acknowledges the need to address forced labor, there continued to be no discernible anti-trafficking efforts against the forced labor of temporary migrant workers and domestic servants. These victims remained largely unprotected and, due to the lack of systematic procedures to identify victims of forced labor among vulnerable populations, they may be punished for immigration and other violations.

Recommendations for the United Arab Emirates: Significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute labor trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including recruitment agents and employers who subject workers to forced labor; institute formal procedures 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; provide protection services to all victims of trafficking, including by extending protection to victims of forced labor on par with victims of forced prostitution; ensure trafficking victims are not incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, including victims of forced labor; enforce prohibitions on withholding of workers' passports; extend labor law protections to domestic workers; and reform the sponsorship system so it does not provide excessive power to sponsors or employers in granting and sustaining the legal status of workers.

Prosecution

The UAE government sustained law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking during the reporting period, but again failed to take any discernible measures to investigate or punish forced labor offenses. The UAE prohibits all forms of trafficking under its federal law Number 51 of 2006, which prescribes penalties ranging from one year to life imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In November 2010, the Dubai authorities established a special court to hear human trafficking cases; this court is aimed at expediting trafficking prosecutions in Dubai. During the reporting period, the government continued to make efforts to address trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. According to the government, the UAE prosecuted 58 sex trafficking cases during the reporting period involving 169 defendants, an increase from the 43 cases reported in the previous reporting period. The government did not, however, provide information on convictions or sentences for trafficking offenders. Despite the UAE's prohibition against labor forms of trafficking, the government again failed to report any criminal prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for forced labor during the reporting period. Prohibitions against practices that greatly contribute to forced labor, such as widespread withholding of workers' passports, remained unenforced. While the government took steps to respond to workers' complaints of unpaid wages, the authorities' response was limited to administrative penalties such as fines or mediation to recover the wages and did not involve the criminal investigation or punishment of any employer. The government's persistent failure to address labor forms of trafficking continues to be a major gap in the Emirates' law enforcement efforts against trafficking. The government's National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking and Dubai authorities continued to train judicial and law enforcement officials, in coordination with social services agency staff, on trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for government complicity in trafficking offenses.

Protection

The UAE government made uneven progress in protecting victims of trafficking during the reporting period. Although it sustained progress in protecting victims of sex trafficking, it demonstrated no efforts to improve protective services for victims of forced labor. The government opened shelters for female and child victims of trafficking and abuse in Ras al Khaimah and Sharjah in January and continued to operate existing shelters in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. These facilities provide medical, psychological, legal, and vocational assistance to female and child victims of trafficking. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, police conducted interviews in civilian clothes at shelters. Authorities report that government officials, houses of worship, and community centers refer victims to these shelters. In 2010, the Dubai shelter assisted 49 victims of trafficking and the Abu Dhabi shelter assisted 71. These identified victims reportedly were not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as prostitution offenses. The government's lack of formal victim identification procedures, however, may have lead to victims of sex trafficking remaining unidentified. As a result, victims of sex trafficking whom the government did not identify may have been punished through incarceration, fines, or deportation for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The government encouraged identified victims of sex trafficking to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers by providing victims with housing and sometimes employment. Nonetheless, the UAE continues not to recognize people forced into labor as trafficking victims, particularly if they are over the age of 18 and enter the country voluntarily. While victims of trafficking were exempted from paying fines accrued for overstaying their visas, victims of labor trafficking – likely the most prevalent form of trafficking in the UAE – were not offered shelter, counseling, or immigration relief by the government. Domestic workers who ran away from their sponsors often accessed limited assistance at their embassies, but largely were presumed to be violators of the law by UAE authorities. The UAE government did not actively encourage victims of labor trafficking to participate in investigations or prosecutions and it did not initiate proactive investigations of forced labor offenses committed against these victims. The government continues to lack protection services for male victims of trafficking; these victims must also appeal to their embassies for assistance. In addition, although trainings for law enforcement officials included focus on victim identification, the government does not have formal procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among high risk persons with whom they come in contact. As a result, victims of forced labor may have been punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as immigration violations. The government did not provide long-term legal alternatives to the removal of trafficking victims to countries where they face retribution or hardship.

Prevention

The UAE government continued its efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. The government conducted anti-trafficking information and education campaigns within the UAE and with source country embassies, including an advertisement campaign in the Abu Dhabi and Al Ain international airports. The government launched a website in Dubai to raise awareness of trafficking and established a toll-free hotline to report labor abuses. The government was transparent about its anti-trafficking efforts, as it continued to publish an annual public report on anti-trafficking measures taken. Government authorities also produced and translated into source country languages pamphlets on workers' rights and resources for assistance for distribution to migrant workers. The government, however, did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the UAE or child sex tourism by UAE nationals.

Search Refworld