Trial shows the vicious world of trafficking

A court hears details of an operation in which Moroccans were lured to the UAE and forced into sexual slavery.

ABU DHABI // There was the recruiter in Morocco, the kingpins in the UAE who oversaw the logistics, and handlers to control the women. Then there were the women, all lured here in the hopes of a good job only to find themselves enslaved in a seedy underworld of prostitution.

That, according to new testimony released by prosecutors in court yesterday, was how the biggest human trafficking ring to be broken in Abu Dhabi allegedly operated. For years, authorities have struggled to track and break networks such as this one, and the case of 13 women allegedly forced into prostitution in Abu Dhabi has provided a rare glimpse into this underworld. The women's testimony has formed the backbone of the trial.

In their statements, the women offered vivid descriptions of how they were lured to the UAE on the promise of high salaries and career opportunities. Only after they arrived in the UAE, put under lock-and-key, beaten and forced to sell their bodies, they said, did the full horror of their situation become clear. One recounted how she arrived in Abu Dhabi four months ago expecting to find a person holding a sign with her name on it. Instead, she met a Syrian man who picked her out of the crowd and greeted her. The man told her he was the person who had arranged a job for her as a hotel receptionist and had paid more than Dh15,000 (US$4,000) to bring her to the country.

He said he needed her passport and identity documents to make copies. She handed them over. When the woman arrived at her new home in the Tourist Club area, she encountered several frightened Moroccan women. Then a second man took her to another room and told her that she would be forced to work as a prostitute until the Dh15,000 was paid off. In a highly unusual move, a public prosecutor spoke in court against the defendants, claiming they "violated human rights laws, defamed the country's reputation, and trafficked women - enslaving them for money".

"The women were brought over from Morocco under false pretences," he told the court. In the UAE, public prosecutors do not normally speak in court but rather submit their evidence in written form. The trafficking operation allegedly involved a recruiter in Morocco, kingpins in the UAE who oversaw the logistics, handlers who controlled the women, a network of clients based on referrals and drivers who chauffeured the women to those clients.

One defendant told the court: "If they had mobile phones, they could have called their families. Surely, they would have seen a police car or an advertisement for the 999 police number." The women previously testified they were intimidated and led to believe their captors were powerful and well-connected to the police and other authorities. Lawyers for the defendants claim the women came knowingly to Abu Dhabi to work as prostitutes.

Some of the defendants deny the charges of operating a human trafficking ring, but have pleaded guilty to assisting and facilitating prostitution. The case is the latest to be tried under federal anti-trafficking legislation introduced in 2006 that specifies sentences of life imprisonment and fines of up to Dh1 million. "This case shows the increase in awareness and all of the things we have managed to do over the past three years [since the introduction of anti-trafficking laws]," said Dr Saeed al Ghufli, the co-ordinator for the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking.

"The existence of shelters and the work of the police have played an effective role in making this case reach the court." It remains unclear how many women are lured to the UAE each year to work in the sex trade. The number of trafficking cases brought before UAE courts increased last year to 36 from 20 in 2008. The trial was adjourned until January 17, when a verdict will be rendered. * The National