Dubai anti-trafficking efforts on the rise

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DUBAI // The Dubai Police centre for monitoring human trafficking is increasing its focus on training law enforcement personnel, emphasising that understanding the crime and the laws that prohibit it are key to fighting modern-day slavery. "Human trafficking is a modern crime and people's understanding and awareness of it is also new - not only in the UAE but across the world," said Sultan al Jamal, director of the Human Trafficking Monitoring Centre. "In the UAE the challenge is bigger because the anti-trafficking legislation is just over three years old. This crime is a complex one and thus difficult to detect and investigate.

"Therefore, to be able to identify it, one needs a comprehensive understanding of the law and what elements constitute this crime." And indeed, progress in that area has already been made in Dubai, officials say. Last year the force sent about 65 officers overseas for specialised education. Another 100 officers were trained locally. The police force has also shown about 300 people working in various institutions how to spot and help trafficking victims.

"I always say if you want to see how bad this crime is, imagine if it happened to one of your family," said Dr Saeed al Ghufli, the coordinator of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking. "I want everyone to feel like that - whether it is for exploited labourers, housemaids or workers. I want people to feel what these people suffer. "It doesn't only make me angry, I feel if you see that someone is being used in a wrong way and just to make money out of that person, this is very bad and no one will tolerate this crime."

Officials say increased awareness has resulted in the rescue of 34 victims of human trafficking so far this year by Dubai Police; most of the victims were women. That represents a 70 per cent increase over the same period in 2009. The force also recorded a 33 per cent increase in the number of human trafficking cases, up from 23 last year, according to its annual report. All of the trafficking cases, apart from one that involved the selling of children, involved forced prostitution. Children were involved in about 12 per cent of the cases, while all the others involved adult women. More than half of the victims were between the ages of 19 and 25.

Although Federal Law No 51 on human trafficking was passed in 2006, Dubai Police were ahead of the curve, officials say, having already established a section devoted to such cases. The section falls under the agency's human rights department. In February 2009, under the guidelines of the law, the responsibility of the section was expanded and the Dubai Police chief ordered the formation of the Human Trafficking Monitoring Centre.

The centre's objective is to monitor human trafficking in the city and train law enforcement on how to detect and deal with victims, as well as co-operate with regional and international organisations that combat trafficking. "The ignorance in the elements of the law could lead to putting criminal charges against a trafficking victim or acquitting an offender," Mr al Jamal said. He added that such mistakes have occurred in the past, but declined to give further details.

"We have made recommendations to increase training because it is the core for our progress in fighting this crime. Without training we will not be able to progress," Mr al Jamal said. The centre's main focus is on those who are on the front lines dealing with the crime - mainly law enforcement personnel, whether police officers, investigators, prosecutors or other court workers. Awareness is also key for medical and shelter personnel.

"For example, we realised that there is a need to educate doctors and nurses on victims of human trafficking. Sometimes hospital personnel come across trafficking victims without being able to identify them," Mr al Jamal said. "Some of them told us that they get patients who would ask to stay any additional time possible to avoid the harsh reality of trafficking, even if it is just an hour." * With additional reporting by Zoi Constantine