DUBAI // The first clues may come when an immigration officer checks the passport of a woman, perhaps from eastern Europe and in her early twenties, who has been picked up for overstaying her visa. She may seem afraid, or unwilling to impart information and her responses may be inconsistent with what appears to be a straightforward visa violation.
It is instances such as this that law officers, including members of the police, public prosecution and immigration, are being urged to scrutinise for possible cases of sex trafficking. A training programme run by the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) over the past four days focused on identifying, helping and protecting victims. Twenty-two participants from the Ministry of Interior, public prosecution and immigration, as well as representatives from women's shelters, took part in the workshop at the Dubai Police Academy.
It was led by Paul Holmes on behalf of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Mr Holmes focused on indicators that could help in the detection of trafficking victims, such the nationalities and ages of those who are commonly trafficked to the UAE. "The objective is to empower and to give practical skills to, for example, improve victim identification," he said. Mr Holmes stressed the complex nature of pursuing investigations into trafficking. "The problem above all else is that the commodity in this crime are very valuable human beings," he said.
Among the participants was Ahmed al Jarah, who has spent more than three years in the investigation section of Sharjah's immigration department. "This training enlarged my knowledge," he said. "Before, I only considered cases as simply illegal. Now I will try to find out if they are victims of human trafficking." According to Dr Saeed al Ghufli, the co-ordinator of the NCCHT, one aim of the programme is to ensure that those on the front line of the fight against trafficking work to "international standards".
"Identification of victims is at the beginning of any case, which normally takes place at police stations and borders," he said. "We want to give our officers the skills to deal with victims in a humane way. They need to know how to distinguish between prostitution and trafficking victims." This was the second IOM training session conducted in the UAE. According to Fiona el Assiuty, the project manager of the IOM's regional multi-action programme, more awareness about trafficking for sexual exploitation is needed.
"Trafficking is not a new crime, but the awareness is still not very refined," she said. "There is just a fine line between someone who is a victim of trafficking and someone who is doing this voluntarily. It is experience that will be able to detect victims." Ms el Assiuty said the UAE had taken "huge steps" in efforts to combat trafficking over the past five years, including the introduction of federal anti-trafficking legislation, as well as the establishment of the NCCHT and shelters for victims.
"It is clear that the UAE is sincere in its efforts to combat the phenomenon," she said. In January, the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court sentenced seven men to life in prison for operating the capital's largest known human trafficking ring. Mr Holmes said the legislation was one of the strongest he had come across in terms of prescribed punishments. "The law could be hugely powerful as a deterrent," he said.