Battle to beat human trafficking being won: Dubai Police

Through training various government departments, inspection campaigns, a potential life sentence for offenders and just treatment of victims, authorities are pleased with success of strategy to combat human trafficking.

Lt Col Dr Sultan Al Jamal, who leads the Dubai Police Human Trafficking Crimes Monitoring Centre, says severe sentences have helped to deter offenders. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // The net is closing in on human traffickers in the UAE as new figures show Dubai Police is winning a war waged on a broadening front line.

Special operations against trafficking resulted in recorded crimes falling to a fifth of what they were five years ago.

The question is: are the traffickers getting smarter, or are police tactics working to combat such crimes?

In 2010, there were 35 reported cases, 61 known victims and 90 suspects. A year later, two years after the Dubai Police Human Trafficking Crimes Monitoring Centre was up and running, there were 24 reported cases, 39 victims and 67 suspects.

The numbers have continued to fall since, with just seven reported cases last year.

Lt Col Dr Sultan Al Jamal, head of the monitoring centre, said the drop was down to Government departments working together.

“To defeat these crimes, we have had to start at the roots and find out the methods criminals are using,” he said.

“The punishment is now very severe, with a life sentence. That has helped as a deterrent.

“It can be hard to uncover these cases. People do not always report them to police as they worry they will get into trouble, particularly if they are working and have only a visiting visa.”

At the monitoring centre, training is given to staff working at the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, the Ministry of Interior’s human rights department and CID officers to identify criminals working in human trafficking and prostitution.

The centre also works with embassies, consulates and Interpol.

Prosecutors now have an investigation team that specialises in human trafficking, and a small court established to deal solely with these cases.

In 2011, a trafficking section was set up at the Ministry of Labour, in addition to an inspection department monitoring areas in Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah. Rescued victims are taken to temporary Government accommodation, where they can stay until they have received counselling and financial support to help them return home.

“We do not punish victims,” Col Al Jamal added. “We give them shelter and try to give them back a normal life. It is part of the process, to make them feel safe and encourage them to speak freely.

“We need the victims to be open with us to help us catch those responsible. Communication helps us to stop the problem. Some victims need time.”

Information leaflets have been distributed at airports and labour camps to advise anyone with concerns that someone may have been trafficked into the country that there is an escape route.

An anonymous hotline in several languages offers advice and encourages people to report suspicious behaviour. The number to call is 800 5005.

Emirates airline staff at check-in desks have been trained to spot signs of trafficking and pass intelligence to police.

Dr Abdulla Al Hashimi, divisional senior vice president of group security at Emirates, said: “The battle against illegal immigration is often associated with police and customs.

“Our security team’s activities verify customer travel documents and visas, especially those heading to a destination which is often subject to border violations.”

An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, according to the International Labour Organisation. Of those victims, 80 per cent are female and half are thought to be minors.

The global annual revenue generated by trafficking people is estimated at US$32 billion (Dh118bn).

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Sex slavery is ‘not rampant’

DUBAI // Experts at Dubai Police’s anti-human trafficking department have said many of the cases they see are individuals, rather than groups of people forced into the sex trade or servitude, as is often the case in Europe.

One example here is of a man sentenced to 10 years in jail for forcing his wife into prostitution after he brought her and her three children to live with him. The man had threatened to kill her children if she refused.

She was only able to contact her sister back home a year later to tell her what was going on. The sister called her own husband, who worked in the UAE. He called the police, who agreed with the victim to arrest her husband.

The police were present at a hotel where the victim was accompanied by her husband and introduced to a client. The husband and the client were arrested immediately. The victim was offered legal, psychiatric and financial help until she was able to return home. In a second case, three suspects were sentenced to 10 years in jail each for locking a 22-year-old woman against her will in an apartment and forcing her into prostitution.

The woman came to the UAE thinking she was offered a job as a dancer, but was locked in as soon as she arrived and forced to sell her body until she was suffering from severe depression.

The police received a tip-off and then broke into the apartment and freed her.

nwebster@thenational.ae