In recent years, the most severe test for the country’s human rights record has come from problems associated with labour issues, specifically human trafficking. Some of the temporary contractual workers that the UAE receives every year from throughout the world, unfortunately, are deceived by labour recruiters and become victims of human trafficking.
For the majority of trafficked persons, it is only when they arrive in the UAE that they realise that the work they were promised does not exist and they are forced instead to take up employment in other jobs or under conditions to which they did not give consent. Since the deceit begins before the workers leave their home countries, the importance of partnering with source and transit countries is now paramount to the UAE’s strategy to combat human trafficking.
In order to institutionalise the fight against human trafficking the Government has devised a four-pillar strategy – legislation; enforcement; victim support; and bilateral agreements and international cooperation.
As part of its legislation process, the Government enacted Federal Law 51 in 2006. The law takes into account the existing federal laws on entry and residency of foreigners, labour, criminal procedures, the Penal Code and also changed legislation, for example with regard to camel races.
It calls for strong punitive measures, including maximum penalties of life imprisonment and covers all forms of human trafficking – not just overt enslavement, but also sexual exploitation, child labour and commerce in human organs. The UAE is currently studying the possibilities for amending Federal Law 51 so that it can be harmonised more closely with the Palermo Protocol.
In order to ensure effective enforcement of Federal Law 51, a Cabinet decision in 2007 established the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, which serves as a coordinating agency.
The multidimensional committee includes representatives from the federal ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Labour, Health and Social Affairs, as well as State Security and the UAE Red Crescent Authority. Regular workshops are being organised to enhance the skills of law enforcement officials dealing with this crime.
The victim support programme includes protection, counselling and rehabilitation. Police departments and non-Government organisations provide shelter and support for human trafficking victims until they are able to acquire the right documents and many victims are then sent home at the Government’s expense, under the Crime Victim Assistance Programme.
These shelters include the Dubai Women’s and Children’s Foundation, which was established in July 2007, and Ewaa in Abu Dhabi, which opened in late 2008, as well as the Human Rights Care Department in Dubai and the Social Support Centre in Abu Dhabi, which have been operating for several years.
The Dubai and Abu Dhabi shelters, which have together hosted nearly 100 victims so far, adhere to international standards and provide medical treatment, psychological care and counselling, access to legal services, temporary housing, basic education and training, apart from safely sending them back home, when required.
The UAE Red Crescent Authority is planning to soon establish shelters across the country with Government assistance, and the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking is studying a mechanism of laws and bylaws that would facilitate the process of licensing more shelters.
Realising that the fight against human trafficking should be a collective effort, the fourth pillar of the UAE action plan – bilateral agreements and international cooperation – has several dimensions.
Since trafficking most often begins in the home countries of victims, the UAE has signed agreements with at least eight labour-sending countries during the last three years to check the flow of workforce and prevent trafficking at the roots. The UAE is working with many countries at the bilateral level and with the International Organisation for Migration, International Labour Organisation, International Training Centre for Human Trafficking Prevention in Belarus and several UN organisations.