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Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - United Arab Emirates

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 14 June 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - United Arab Emirates, 14 June 2010, available at: [accessed 10 October 2015]
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, who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically 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, non-payment of wages, threats, or physical or sexual abuse. Workers on Saadiyat Island, the cited location of considerable foreign investment and development, reported the illegal withholding of passports is universal. Restrictive sponsorship laws for foreign domestic workers often give employers power to control their movements 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 involuntary servitude and debt bondage as they struggle to pay off debts for recruitment fees. This typically takes one year. The continuing global recession has contributed to the vulnerability of some migrant workers to forced labor and debt bondage, particularly in the construction sector. Trafficking offenders are exploitative recruitment agents in the sending countries and businesses or individuals within the UAE who promise migrants nonexistent employment opportunities.

Some 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. Media reports described at least two cases of Iraqi families who knowingly sold their teenage daughters to other Iraqi residents in the UAE for forced prostitution, and a Tajik official estimates approximately 30 percent of the estimated 200 Tajik women in prostitution in the UAE are victims of trafficking.

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 government continued to demonstrate clear progress in prosecuting and convicting sex trafficking offenders during the year and made modest progress to provide protections to identified female trafficking victims. However, there were no discernible anti-trafficking efforts against the forced labor of temporary migrant workers and domestic servants. Furthermore, the UAE historically has not recognized people forced into labor as trafficking victims, particularly if they are over the age of 18 and enter the country voluntarily.

Recommendations for the United Arab Emirates: Utilize the newly announced Ministry of Labor unit on labor trafficking to identify, investigate, and prosecute labor trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including recruitment agents and employers who subject others to forced labor; develop and institute formal procedures of law enforcement for 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 that is not detention-based for both males and females, referral to available aid, and credible recourse for obtaining financial restitution; ensure trafficking victims are not incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; enforce prohibitions on withholding passports for all workers; offer domestic workers protections given to other migrant laborers; 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.


The UAE government made significant progress in its law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking over the last year. However, it had no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for more prevalent forced labor offenses. In March 2010, the Ministry of Labor announced the creation of a new unit to identify and investigate potential labor trafficking cases. 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. Although this law includes 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. The prosecutions of at least 36 sex trafficking cases were initiated in UAE courts during the last year. While the government has not yet released law enforcement data, press reports indicated that all of these have resulted in convictions, as of April 2010, with sentences imposed ranging from one year for failure to report knowledge of a trafficking victim to life imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation. The government did not prosecute, convict, or punish any labor trafficking offenders. In October 2009, the Emirate of Dubai created a permanent task force to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. The government organized the training of UAE law enforcement officials and NGO representatives on identifying trafficked persons and traffickers and techniques for interviewing potential victims. Dubai police held workshops with the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, which operates the local trafficking shelter.

Although Belgian authorities continued to investigate eight family members of the royal family of Abu Dhabi for allegedly subjecting 17 Asian and Middle Eastern girls into forced domestic servitude while staying at a Brussels hotel in 2008, the UAE government made no efforts of its own to investigate this matter during the year. In early 2010, UK authorities began investigating allegations that UAE diplomats had subjected their domestic servants to conditions of forced labor.


The UAE government showed limited progress in its efforts to provide victims of trafficking with assistance. UAE authorities did not employ formal procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among high risk persons with whom they come in contact. UAE authorities did not follow internationally-recognized guidelines in identifying, interviewing, and protecting suspected victims of trafficking; a number of Tajik women identified as victims of trafficking upon their repatriation from the UAE were not given victim status and care while in UAE government custody. The government identified an estimated 80 trafficking victims during the reporting period, all of whom were female victims of sex trafficking. Thirty of these victims were repatriated quickly using government funds. The government offered some, but not all, foreign victims meaningful alternatives to their repatriation. The remaining 50 were offered comprehensive services in the government-operated shelters in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which only provide services to female victims of trafficking and abuse. Administration of the Dubai shelter included several practices harmful to victims' welfare, including the detention of all victims (which was prolonged in cases in which the police wanted to use a victim as a prosecution witness), and tight restrictions on victims' movements and access to persons outside the shelter. The government announced plans to open additional shelters for sex trafficking victims in the northern emirates of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah by mid-2010. 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 during the reporting period. Several unofficial shelters supported hundreds of female domestic workers who fled their employers and reported conditions of forced labor. The UAE government, however, did not encourage any of these victims to participate in investigations or prosecutions, and it did not initiate proactive investigations of forced labor offenses committed against these victims. 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; however, most victims did not testify. The government waived penalties for immigration and other violations, and provided repatriation assistance, for identified trafficking victims. Victims who are not identified may be incarcerated, fined, deported, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The UAE government continued to fund a UNICEF program to provide rehabilitation assistance to repatriated children who had been trafficked to the UAE in previous years for service as camel jockeys.


The UAE government made clear progress in preventing human trafficking over the reporting period. Coordination of all government anti-trafficking efforts continued through the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking. The government conducted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns within the UAE and in embassies and consulates in source countries. The Ministry of Interior organized seminars in workplaces and labor camps, intended to educate workers on their rights and methods of obtaining assistance. The government publicized its toll-free hotline, although it is unclear whether the hotline functioned well. It produced multi-language pamphlets on human trafficking, distributed to labor camps, government offices, NGOs, and media outlets, and a pocket book on workers' rights was also printed in various languages. The UAE government sustained and expanded a mandatory electronic wage deposit system for foreign laborers intended to prevent abuse of the government's migrant sponsorship system by establishing a record of direct salary payments. As of April 2010, this system covered 1.8 million workers. All companies will be required to use this system by May 2010. One of the penalties for non-compliance with the system is a prohibition on new hiring; as of March 2010, approximately 800 companies that have not complied with the November 30, 2009 deadline are barred from hiring new workers. Two delegations of law enforcement officials and shelter personnel were part of an international training program. Abu Dhabi hosted a symposium on protecting victims of human trafficking. The government initiated a bilateral agreement with Thailand to prevent source country labor rights abuses. The government has not taken any measures to reduce commercial sex acts.

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