United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a destination and transit country for men and women predominantly from South, Southeast, and Central Asia and Eastern Europe who are subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. Migrant workers, who comprise over 95 percent of the UAE’s private sector workforce, are recruited primarily from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, Thailand, Republic of Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Philippines; some of these workers face forced labor in the UAE. Women from some of these countries travel willingly to the UAE to work as domestic workers, secretaries, beauticians, and hotel cleaners, but some are subsequently subjected to forced labor through the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Restrictive sponsorship laws for foreign domestic workers give employers power to control domestic workers’ movements, threaten them with abuse of legal processes, and make them vulnerable to exploitation. Men from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal are recruited to work in the UAE in the construction sector; some are subjected to forced labor through debt bondage as they struggle to pay off recruitment fees. In some cases, employers declare bankruptcy and flee the country, abandoning their employees in conditions that leave them vulnerable to further exploitation. Some labor recruitment companies in source countries hire foreign workers with employment contracts that are never honored or where the terms and conditions of the contracts are changed, such that workers are forced into involuntary servitude and debt bondage once in the UAE. Some women from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, 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. The government prosecuted sex trafficking cases, though the number of prosecutions and convictions of trafficking offenders decreased in 2013 compared to the previous year. It continued to implement victim identification procedures and refer sex trafficking victims to protection services. The government continued to fund shelters for sex trafficking victims and opened the first shelter for male sex trafficking victims in the second half of 2013, but no victims were referred to the facility. The government’s anti-trafficking efforts were largely focused on sex trafficking, with gradually increasing efforts to investigate and prosecute forced labor offenses and identify and protect forced labor victims—especially male forced labor victims. The government provided avenues for migrant workers’ complaints of abuse through hotlines and a formal process for disputes of unpaid wages, yet some forced labor victims remained unidentified and unprotected. Furthermore, some victims may have been punished for offenses committed as a direct result of their being subjected to human trafficking, such as immigration and other violations. The government continued to implement numerous awareness campaigns and used retinal scanners at airports that prevented convicted traffickers from re-entering the country.
Recommendations for the United Arab Emirates:
Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish labor trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including recruitment agents and employers; increase victim identification efforts for workers subjected to forced labor, including those apprehended for violations of immigration laws and domestic workers who have fled their employers; provide protection services to all victims of trafficking, including by extending protection to victims of forced labor on par with victims of forced prostitution; allow all male victims of trafficking, including both sex trafficking and forced labor, access to services at the new shelter for male victims; ensure that all trafficking victims, especially those who experience forced labor, are not incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, and treat male and female victims equally; enforce the prohibitions on withholding workers’ passports; implement the draft law addressing the protection of domestic workers’ rights; 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 government continued law enforcement efforts to address human trafficking crimes. Federal law Number 51 of 2006 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from one year to life in prison as well as fines and deportation. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In this reporting period, the government prosecuted 19 cases of sex trafficking involving 50 alleged trafficking offenders and convicted 12 trafficking offenders; however, the details of these cases were unclear. In 2013, according to the Ministry of Labor (MOL), the government referred one labor trafficking offender to the court for prosecution, though the details of the case were unclear. This is a decrease from the previous reporting period when the government referred 47 cases involving 149 alleged sex trafficking offenders for prosecution and convicted 91 sex trafficking offenders under the anti-trafficking law, with sentences ranging from one year to life imprisonment.
While authorities penalized labor violators, the government rarely prosecuted potential forced labor cases under the country’s anti-trafficking law. For example, workers filed labor complaints through hotlines, in person, or through the MOL. In 2013, 78 percent of these complaints were settled through the MOL labor relations office; of the 21 percent forwarded to judicial authorities; a significant proportion were settled through mediation. The government did not report investigating any of these complaints and labor violations for potential forced labor crimes. In this reporting period, the government continued to respond to and investigate workers’ complaints of unpaid wages through a dispute resolution process and the Wages Protection System (WPS), which is intended to ensure the payment of wages to workers and punish employers with administrative and financial penalties for failing to comply; MOL referred 188 wage disputes for legal remedy in 2013. However, the government did not report investigating these employers for potential forced labor offenses. The government also did not proactively enforce a prohibition on the withholding of workers’ passports by employers, which was a widespread problem. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. The government continued to train judicial, law enforcement, and labor officials on human trafficking; in 2013, it provided anti- trafficking trainings to 838 police officers. In addition, police divisions in each emirate had a dedicated human trafficking department, and the Dubai police had a specialized human trafficking crimes center that monitored and combatted sex trafficking and responded to labor violations; however, the center did not specialize in combatting forced labor.
The government made sustained, but uneven, progress in identifying and providing protective services to trafficking victims. Though the government continued to proactively identify and protect trafficking victims, the government limited its protection services—including shelter—solely to sex trafficking victims and failed to sufficiently address the needs of forced labor victims. In 2013, the government identified 40 victims and referred all 40 victims to protective services. This is a decrease from the 57 sex trafficking victims identified and referred to care facilities in the previous reporting period. The government continued to fund shelters for female and child victims of sex trafficking and abuse in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, and Sharjah, which provided medical, psychological, legal, educational, and vocational assistance. These shelters assisted 40 female trafficking victims during the reporting period. The shelters received victims from a range of referrals, including government officials, houses of worship, source country embassies, hospitals, and NGO-operated hotlines. Shelter personnel reported that government officials continued to improve their efforts to identify and refer sex trafficking victims to protection services during the reporting period. Furthermore, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and the government-funded shelters signed an MOU in 2013 formalizing their relationship, which ensured that police were responsible for referring and escorting victims safely to shelters. In the latter half of 2013, the government opened the first shelter for male victims of sex trafficking; however, the government did not identify any male victims of sex trafficking during the reporting period for referral to the new shelter. Accordingly, the shelter did not offer any services in practice. There was no shelter available for male forced labor victims.
Identified victims reportedly were not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as prostitution offenses. However, unidentified victims of sex trafficking and forced labor may have been penalized through incarceration, fines, or deportation for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as prostitution or immigration violations. Although the MOI continued to distribute a guidebook outlining standard operating procedures for law enforcement officials to identify victims of both sex and labor trafficking, authorities failed to identify potential cases of forced labor and instead classified them as labor violations. For example, UAE authorities generally deemed female domestic workers who fled their employers as criminals, raising concerns that victim identification procedures were not utilized in these cases. Because of a lack of government shelters for forced labor victims, domestic workers, including victims of domestic servitude, continued to seek shelter assistance at their embassies and consulates. The government, however, continued to improve the identification of sex trafficking victims in detention or prison and referred them to a local shelter. The MOI also continued to implement a system to place suspected trafficking victims in a transitional social support center, instead of a detention center, until victim identification was completed. Moreover, identified sex trafficking victims were assigned plain-clothed female and male police officers to escort them to shelter services, in an effort to avoid inflicting additional psychological trauma on victims. In July 2013, the cabinet made changes to draft amendments to the 2006 anti-trafficking law, which would provide greater protection for trafficking victims; these amendments awaited the president’s signature and were not enacted at the end of the reporting period. A draft law protecting the rights of domestic workers, which the cabinet of ministers approved in January 2012, continued to await presidential approval.
The government established a trafficking victims’ fund in October 2013, which could provide victims with financial compensation for damages suffered and offered initial financial support for victims to re-resettle in their home country. It is unclear how many victims benefited from this fund. The government did not encourage forced labor victims to participate in investigations or prosecutions, but it did encourage victims of sex trafficking to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; there were, however, no available statistics on the number of victims who did so in this reporting period. While the government exempted victims of trafficking who had an ongoing court case against an employer for labor abuses from paying fines accrued for overstaying their visas, the government did not offer victims of labor trafficking shelter, counseling, or immigration relief. The government did not provide permanent residency status to victims; however, the government worked with international organizations to resettle victims who could not return to their home countries. The government provided repatriation assistance to victims, such as exemption from fines and provision of tickets and travel documents. Although the government did not formally grant temporary residency status to recovering victims, they were permitted to recover at shelters; victims also had the option of obtaining work visas and remaining in the UAE by using the shelters’ employment placement programs or completing voluntary vocational education programs. Workers whose employer did not pay them for 60 days—some of whom may be forced labor victims—were entitled to stay in the country and search for a new employer. MOL also assisted workers from abandoned labor camps to find new employment opportunities. The government did not provide long-term legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries where they faced retribution or hardship.
The government continued to make trafficking prevention a priority. The government implemented awareness campaigns and publicized through various media outlets the government’s anti-trafficking hotline—operated by the inter-ministerial National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT). It implemented a public awareness campaign at Dubai International Airport between July and December 2013 and an awareness campaign on workers’ labor rights. The government also opened a Human Rights Office in Dubai International Airport in July 2013 to assist foreign workers who faced abuse and exploitation. The government publicized the NCCHT’s meetings and activities in the media, while it continued to participate in regional initiatives designed to combat trafficking. It continued to carry out a national plan of action—initiated in 2012—to address human trafficking. The MOL conducted seminars for workers on labor rights issues, ran a hotline for workers to report labor violations, and operated a mobile unit through which officials inspected labor camps and work sites. The government worked with the Governments of India and the Philippines on a pilot project designed to prevent workers’ employment contracts signed in the source country from being substituted in the UAE, preventing employers from exploiting workers. In 2013, MOL reported having conducted over 100,000 labor inspections, including more than 4,000 inspections of workers’ housing compounds. MOL conducted monthly checks on recruitment agencies, but there was no indication that any forced labor cases resulted from these efforts; MOL suspended one recruitment agency for its illegal practices in 2013. The government implemented a regulation that required companies to give breaks to workers on construction sites during the hottest periods of the day. The government held informational workshops for companies on this regulation, and the media reported in October 2013 that MOL inspected 80,000 companies for adherence to this regulation; 300 were found in violation of the law. The government sustained its WPS electronic salary-monitoring system intended to ensure that workers received their salaries. The government did not take measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the UAE, or to investigate or prosecute acts of child sex tourism by UAE nationals abroad.