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Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - United Arab Emirates

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 16 June 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - United Arab Emirates, 16 June 2009, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
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.


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.


The UAE government made uneven progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year. The prosecutions of 20 sex trafficking cases were initiated in UAE courts – and six of these resulted in convictions during the year, with sentences imposed of three years' to life imprisonment. The government did not prosecute, convict, or punish any labor trafficking offenders. It did, however, impose fines on companies that violated labor laws, though such administrative responses are inadequate for labor trafficking crimes. The UAE prohibits all forms of trafficking under its federal law Number 51 of 2006, which prescribes penalties ranging from one year's imprisonment to life imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. Although this comprehensive law emphasizes labor trafficking offenses, it has not yet been used to prosecute a labor trafficking offense – a major gap in the UAE's anti-trafficking efforts. When victims of potential labor trafficking were identified by law enforcement authorities, criminal investigations were not initiated; instead the cases were often referred to the Ministry of Labor (MOL) to file an administrative complaint. In collaboration with IOM, the government provided anti-trafficking training to law enforcement personnel in Dubai and Abu Dhabi during the reporting period.

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.


The UAE government showed modest but uneven progress in its efforts to provide victims of trafficking with assistance. The government continued operation of a Dubai shelter largely for female victims of trafficking and abuse and opened a second shelter for female trafficking victims in Abu Dhabi in February 2009; the Dubai shelter reported assisting 43 trafficking victims since its September 2007 opening and the Abu Dhabi shelter provided assistance to 35 trafficking victims since its opening. Administration of the Dubai shelter, however, included several practices harmful to victims' welfare, including detention of victims that the police wanted to hold for use as prosecution witnesses, an overly restrictive intake process that prohibited assistance to victims who did not have appropriate immigration status, and tight restrictions on victims' movements and access to persons outside the shelter. Moreover, Dubai police do not consistently ensure that women who enter the UAE voluntarily to engage in prostitution but later become victims of sex trafficking are not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. When the police identify women in prostitution as trafficking victims, however, the victims are encouraged to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers. Victims who agree to testify against their traffickers are provided shelter by the government, and sometimes the option of temporary work.

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.


The UAE government made continued efforts to prevent human trafficking over the reporting period. Coordination of all government anti-trafficking efforts continued through the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, chaired by a coordinator who is currently the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The The MOL continued to implement a policy designed in part to prevent non-payment of salaries, and possibly debt bondage, by requiring employers of foreign workers to pay salaries through an electronic system that could be monitored. The MOL also embarked on a potentially path-breaking pilot initiative with the labor sending governments of the Philippines and India to improve the transparency and accountability of labor recruitment from these countries and eliminate fraudulent recruitment practices that have in the past fostered forced labor and debt bondage; the initiative has yet to be fully implemented. In January 2009, the government launched an awareness-raising campaign in UAE airports. During the reporting period, the government and many companies in the UAE embarked on a model labor camp initiative to improve the accommodations of the country's largely unskilled male foreign workforce. Currently standards for accommodation differ across the UAE's seven emirates, but the MoL has begun consultations with the ILO to develop federal standards of accommodation, health, and safety for the country's guest workers, which are likely to prevent conditions that contribute to forced labor.


The United Kingdom (UK) is a significant destination and, to a lesser extent, transit country for women, children, and men trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, primarily from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Balkans, and Asia (principally China, Vietnam, and Malaysia). Some victims, including UK-resident children, are also trafficked within the country. Migrant workers are trafficked to the UK for forced labor in agriculture, construction, food processing, domestic servitude, and food services. Data collected from assisted women trafficked for sexual exploitation revealed that Lithuania, Nigeria, and Moldova were the leading sources of trafficking victims in the UK in 2008. Unaccompanied foreign children, including girls from the PRC, were trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. It is estimated that hundreds of young children, mostly from Vietnam and China, are trafficked to the UK and subjected to debt bondage by Vietnamese organized crime gangs for forced work on cannabis farms. Media reports and results from law enforcement operations indicate a large-scale trafficking problem in Scotland, involving both women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Inadequate protection measures for these victims result in their re-trafficking throughout the UK. London police estimate that 70 percent of the 88,000 women involved in prostitution in England and Wales are under the control of traffickers. There is anecdotal evidence that some trafficking may occur, although not on a large scale, in some UK territories such as Bermuda.

The Government of the United Kingdom fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Over the last year, UK authorities continued to vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking and conducted innovative demand reduction and prevention campaigns. Concerns remain that some victims, including children, are not being adequately identified or receiving adequate protection and assistance.

Recommendations for the United Kingdom: Adopt and implement national procedures for identifying potential trafficking victims among vulnerable populations for all forms of trafficking in the UK; expand shelter and assistance capacity to meet the needs of all trafficking victims, including specialized care for children who have been trafficked; establish protection measures specifically for foreign unaccompanied minors to prevent their trafficking; and ensure repatriation and reintegration services for victims to prevent their re-trafficking and re-victimization.


The UK Government sustained its aggressive efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders in 2008, doubling its conviction rate from the previous year. The UK prohibits all forms of trafficking through its 2004 Sexual Offenses Act and its 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act, which prescribe penalties of a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment, though the specific punishments prescribed for sex trafficking are less severe than those prescribed for rape. In March 2008, the government completed Pentameter II, a large-scale operation aimed at disrupting trafficking networks and rescuing victims, resulting in the identification of 167 potential trafficking victims, the arrest of 528 suspects and over $5 million in assets seized or forfeited. The UK government reported prosecuting 129 ongoing trafficking cases between March 2008 and March 2009. Twenty-three trafficking offenders were convicted – four of whom were prosecuted for forced labor offenses – an increase from 10 in 2007. Sentences imposed on convicted trafficking offenders in 2008 ranged from 18 months' to 14 years' imprisonment, with an average sentence of five years. In one case, a court sentenced six trafficking offenders to a combined total of 52 years for the trafficking of a Slovakian teenager for the purpose of sexual exploitation from 2006 until her escape in January 2008.


The UK government demonstrated sustained efforts to protect victims of sex trafficking in 2008, but it did not provide comprehensive or systematic protections to trafficked children and victims of forced labor. The government provided significant funding for its specialized shelter for sex trafficking victims, allocating $1.95 million for its operation in 2008. Overall, the shelter received 293 referrals, with law enforcement referring the majority of potential victims. However, due to budget restraints and limited capacity, only 41 women were accommodated by the shelter; others were assisted on an outreach basis with counseling, subsistence allowances, medical treatment, education and training, and legal support. In addition, some of the victims who were not accommodated at the shelter did not meet all of the government's criteria for admission: victims must be over 18; involved in prostitution within three months of referral; willing to cooperate in the prosecution of their traffickers; and must have been trafficked into the UK from abroad. The government provided training to front-line responders on victim identification and continued to develop nationwide and systematic referral system to improve identification for potential trafficking victims. NGOs and international organizations continue to express serious concerns regarding the government's ability to protect children from traffickers in the UK; the government does not provide systematic and specialized victim care for children who have been trafficked. Many children who are trafficked into the UK from Vietnam and China for forced work on cannabis farms disappear after being placed into foster care by social services – likely returning to their traffickers. Moreover, some of these children are prosecuted by the government for cannabis cultivation. While UK government policy is not to penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, some victims continue to be charged and prosecuted for immigration offenses. The UK provides foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they face hardship or retribution. According to NGOs, however, this process continues to be cumbersome and inconsistent for victims seeking such alternatives. To remedy this, the government ratified the Council of Europe's Convention against Trafficking in December 2008 and agreed to provide a 45-day reflection period and renewable one-year residence permits. The government encourages victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions.


The UK government continued to serve as a model in the region for its emphasis on progressive anti-trafficking prevention campaigns. It continued its "Blue Blindfold" awareness campaign, launched in January 2008 in 12 major cities in the UK. The government makes its campaign materials available to countries for replication and dissemination. In May 2008, it piloted an anti-demand poster campaign in Westminster and Nottingham to alert potential clients of prostitution about trafficking and off-street prostitution; the campaign also included online advertisements in local newspapers. In November 2008, it published the results of a six-month review which recommended steps to reduce demand for prostitution. In June 2008, the government revised its action plan to update progress and to reflect victim protection developments on ratifying the Council of Europe Convention. The government continued to fund targeted prevention projects in key source countries including Bulgaria, Romania, and many countries in Asia. It provided anti-trafficking training to UK nationals deployed abroad for international peacekeeping missions in 2008.

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