United Arab Emirates
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Tier 2
The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore the UAE remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by enacting a new domestic worker law intended to expand legal protections to this vulnerable population and opening specialized centers run by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) to regulate domestic worker recruitment and safeguard the terms of employment. In addition, it continued to generate anti-trafficking awareness country-wide and funded and implemented its national action plan to combat trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not consistently enforce the legal prohibition on withholding workers’ passports despite the practice being widespread. While improved, legal and regulatory protections for domestic and private sector workers under the sponsorship system remained inadequate, and government law enforcement and victim protection efforts for labor trafficking remained weak.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish trafficking offenses, especially labor trafficking involving domestic workers, and labor-related crimes; convict and punish labor traffickers, including exploitative recruitment agents and employers; fully implement the new domestic worker law and ministerial labor decrees that expand protections for domestic and private sector workers; reform the sponsorship-based employment system; strictly enforce prohibitions on withholding workers’ passports; continue to expand usage of standard procedures for victim identification among foreign workers subjected to forced labor, particularly domestic workers who have fled their employers; provide protection services to all trafficking victims, including by increasing services for forced labor victims; and, increase published data and access to information pertaining to labor practices, trafficking crimes, and anti-trafficking efforts.
The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Federal Law 51 of 2006 and its amendments in Federal Law No.1 of 2015 criminalized trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from one year to life in prison, as well as fines ranging from 100,000 to 1 million United Arab Emirates dirham (AED) ($27,230 to $272,260) and deportation for non-citizens. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, the government enacted Federal Law No.10 of 2017, which provided additional protections for domestic workers, as well as specified new regulations for recruitment agencies and employers of such workers, including those pertaining to hiring practices, working conditions, and employment contracts.
As in years past, the government did not report detailed statistics on trafficking-related investigations. According to data provided by the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT), in 2017 the government prosecuted 48 alleged traffickers in 16 new trafficking cases all of which involved sexual exploitation, compared to106 alleged traffickers in 25 cases during the previous reporting period. It convicted seven traffickers during 2017, on par with nine it convicted in 2016, and sentences ranged from three years plus a fine to life in prison. Nine cases remained pending in the court system at the close of 2017. In addition, according to the NCCHT, all of the 17 cases that were unresolved as of the end of 2016 also resulted in guilty verdicts in 2017. In one case that began in 2016 and reached a verdict in 2017, the government administered life sentences to two traffickers.
Contraventions of Emirati labor laws containing indicators of trafficking, such as delayed wage payments, unpaid overtime, or passport confiscation, were rarely criminally prosecuted as cases of forced labor, despite widespread reports of the crime in the country; instead, these crimes were treated as regulatory violations, typically resulting in fines or the cancellation of business licenses. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking crimes. However, in June 2017, a Brussels criminal court convicted in absentia eight members of a ruling Emirati family of human trafficking and degrading treatment of their domestic workers; the perpetrators reportedly confiscated their employees’ passports, restricted their movements, and withheld their salaries, among other acts indicative of forced labor. The Belgian court officials handed down 15-month suspended jail terms and ordered each defendant to pay $185,000, with half of the fine also suspended.
In 2017, the Ministry of Interior and Dubai police jointly developed 62 training courses, lectures, and workshops, which were attended by 4,258 participants, including law enforcement officials, diplomats, civil society members, and laborers. Relevant ministry and law enforcement officials held a series of lectures and training programs in workers’ residences and recruitment offices to raise awareness about types of trafficking crimes and best practices for coordinating with law enforcement personnel and shelter staff, at times coordinating with relevant labor-sending embassies. Dubai police also provided trafficking-related training to 19 recruiting companies in 2017. For the fourth year, Dubai Police partnered with Dubai’s Judicial Institute and the NCCHT to host a four-month diploma course on anti-trafficking measures attended by UAE law enforcement professionals and social workers. In addition, Dubai Police also hosted a workshop for diplomatic mission personnel regarding human trafficking investigations. Government authorities continued to train police, judges, prison officials, and immigration authorities on identifying trafficking victims. The law enforcement and judicial sectors dedicated official training sections for how to maneuver human trafficking cases. Emirates Airlines, which is owned by the Dubai government, trained its cabin crewmembers and other airport ground staff on detecting instances of human trafficking at check-in and on flights.
The government maintained modest protection efforts. Provision of protective services continued to center almost entirely on victims of sex trafficking, and such services were rarely provided to labor trafficking victims. During 2017, the government identified 28 victims and referred to protective services 25 sex trafficking victims, compared with 34 in the previous year. For the first time in three years, a shelter solely for male victims, located in Abu Dhabi, housed 15 men who had been forced to beg during the reporting period. To identify victims of forced labor, the government irregularly used standard procedures for victim identification among foreign workers and continued to rely predominantly on third-party referrals from foreign embassies, religious institutions, reactive police investigations, or tips received through government hotlines, smartphone applications, and the internet. To a significantly lesser degree, the government also received tips from retina scans and fraudulent document detectors at points of entry, as well as proactive screening mechanisms employed by officials, often law enforcement personnel. Authorities continued to implement a formal system to move suspected trafficking victims from detention centers, hospitals, houses of worship, or facilities run by source country embassies or consulates, to government shelters, upon the completion of victim identification. At times, female or male police officers in plain clothes—intended to reduce victims’ anxieties—escorted victims, identified by law enforcement, from a government-run transitional center to a shelter; however, some victims continued to express fear of being sent to prison for immigration or other violations rather than being accepted into a shelter. In 2017, the government paid via its victims support fund 99,000 AED ($26,950) for protective services for trafficking victims. The government also maintained oversight and funding for shelters in three of the seven emirates, offering housing and assistance for all female and child sex trafficking and abuse victims across the country; protective services included medical, psychological, legal, educational, rehabilitation and reintegration, and vocational assistance. In 2017, The Aman (Safe) Center for Women and Children was established in Ras al-Khaimah. Some foreign workers, including potential trafficking victims, sought shelter assistance at their respective embassies and consulates in part due to fears of arrest and a lack of specified government services for forced labor victims.
While government-identified trafficking victims were not jailed or prosecuted for violations committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking, other potential victims were reportedly jailed for absconding from their employers or for prostitution. However, the government reported it exempted from fines trafficking victims who had overstayed their visas or who were forced into prostitution. The government did not provide permanent or formal temporary residency status to victims; however, it permitted victims to stay in shelters to recover and participate in court proceedings, and worked with international organizations to resettle in third countries victims who could not return to their countries of origin. Officials resettled an unknown number of child trafficking victims in Europe and Australia during the reporting year. The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and provided victim-witness protective services, including private interview rooms, free legal counseling, and safe transportation to court hearings. Both police and shelter representatives reported victims often chose immediate repatriation—strictly at the UAE’s expense—rather than remaining in country to testify against the traffickers. Laborers were entitled to seek new employment in the country after 60 days of wage non-payment by their existing employer, but in 2017 all government-identified victims chose repatriation.
The government increased its prevention efforts. During the reporting year, the government signed Federal Law No. 10 of 2017 on domestic workers, which included the right for employees to retain personal documents, sign standardized contracts with unequivocally designated working conditions, access specialized tribunals for settling workplace grievances, and observe mandatory time off. It also stipulated in-home inspections on the basis of complaints or reasonable evidence of law violations. Under the law’s provisions, a recruitment agency or person who hindered law enforcement, anyone who disclosed information unveiled in an investigation, or anyone who facilitated the abandonment of a domestic worker may be jailed for a minimum of six months and ordered to pay a 10,000 to 100,000 AED ($2,720 to $27,230) fine. However, many of the law’s articles were not fully enacted, and implementing regulations remained under development at the close of the reporting period. Furthermore, the existing government-mandated standardized contract for domestic workers did not conform to the new labor law. As domestic workers continued to transition from falling under the Ministry of the Interior’s authority to that of MOHRE, new public-private partnerships, known as “Tadbeer Centers,” began operation in the reporting year with the mandate to regulate the recruitment and training of domestic workers, educate them on their legal rights, resolve employer-employee disputes, and verify worker accommodations for compliance with domestic worker law minimum standards.
During the year, the government continued implementation of three ministerial labor decrees passed in 2016 and intended to reduce forced labor practices among private sector workers. The government continued its monitoring and inspection program for private sector manual laborers, including automated electronic monitoring of salary payments for 95 percent of the private sector workforce via the Wage Protection System (WPS), identifying and settling delayed wage payments for an unknown number of workers, and carrying out tens of thousands of labor-related inspections. Within the private sector, the government continued to investigate workers’ complaints of unpaid wages through a dispute resolution process and the WPS, which were intended to ensure workers were paid according to their contracts, and employers were punished with administrative and financial penalties for failing to comply. Workers filed thousands of labor complaints through government-operated smartphone applications, telephone hotlines, websites, email, and formally with MOHRE offices and mobile units; violations routinely resulted in fines and suspended permits to hire new workers. However, domestic worker salaries were not required to be paid via the WPS and, coupled with cultural norms and the lack of legal provisions requiring inspections of domestic worker accommodations, wage payment and work hour abuses, among other acts indicative of forced labor, continued and left domestic workers at risk of exploitation. The government did not enforce a prohibition on employers withholding workers’ passports, which remained a pervasive problem, especially for domestic workers.
The government continued to carry out its national action plan to address human trafficking, driven by the NCCHT. The plan focused on prevention, protection, prosecution, punishment, promotion of international cooperation, redress, rehabilitation, reintegration, and capacity building. Government shelter staff partnered with art galleries for visual art exhibits that showcased art made by trafficking victims, to both increase awareness and raise funds for other victims. The government also disseminated anti-trafficking awareness publications in 14 languages, which targeted at-risk communities and reached an unknown number of vulnerable people. It installed informational noticeboards at airports across the UAE targeting specific terminals based upon nationalities, and utilized radio broadcasting to increase general awareness on trafficking risks. Dubai Police and representatives from the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC) commenced the second year of a five-year anti-trafficking awareness plan during the reporting period targeting victims, witnesses, staff, and government authorities. Shelters engaged in a program for trafficking survivors that trained them to educate vulnerable groups on the risks of trafficking when they return to their respective home countries and communities. DFWAC partnered with companies such as L’Oreal and Benefit Cosmetics to implement employment training programs for the shelter’s clients. In 2018, Dubai authorities developed a labor guideline handbook, available in Arabic, Urdu, and English.
During the reporting year, the government and an independent public opinion survey center also released the findings of a public opinion survey on awareness of human trafficking, ability to identify victims, and knowledge about official procedures to generate awareness and spark community debate. Interior ministry officials targeted labor camps for strategic outreach and distributed more than one million brochures on trafficking during 2017. In January 2018, the government signed an MOU with Thailand to combat trafficking crimes stemming from the labor-sending country and in September 2017, it signed an MOU with the Philippines that included steps to enhance labor cooperation and recruitment transparency between the two countries. It also had in place preventative MOUs with Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, and India. The MOHRE continued an extensive labor inspection program, conducting tens of thousands of housing and work site inspections using a team of full-time labor inspectors, in addition to seven dedicated anti-trafficking inspectors. Dubai Police also continued the Suitable Accommodation Program, conducting unannounced labor camp inspections to enforce compliance with the 12-person per room maximum occupancy rule. In 2017, the MOHRE trained 190 inspectors on trafficking and launched mobile outreach units that reached approximately 1,100 workers. The government did not take measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the UAE. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation maintained provision of workshops and awareness programs on human trafficking for its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, the UAE is a destination and transit country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Foreign workers, recruited globally, comprise nearly 90 percent of the UAE’s private sector workforce. Low wage positions, including most manual labor and a significant portion of the service sector, are occupied almost entirely by migrant workers predominantly from South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East, with a growing percentage from East and West Africa; some of these workers are subjected to practices indicative of forced labor, such as passport retention, non-payment of wages, contract switching, fraudulent employment promises, and substandard food and housing provisions. Women from some of these countries travel willingly to the UAE to work as domestic workers, massage therapists, beauticians, hotel cleaners, or elsewhere in the service sector, but some are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking after arrival. Sponsorship laws contribute to vulnerability to trafficking, particularly for domestic employees, by restricting the ability of employees to leave or change employers, and giving employers the power to cancel residence permits, deny employees permission to leave the country, and threaten employees with abuse of legal processes. Some women, predominantly from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South and Southeast Asia, East Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco, are subjected to forced prostitution in the UAE.
Although under UAE law employers must cover the cost of recruitment, and the UAE government has taken steps to further regulate recruitment in both the corporate and domestic sectors, many source-country labor recruiters charge workers exorbitant fees, causing workers to enter service in the UAE owing debts in their respective countries of origin, increasing vulnerability to trafficking through debt bondage. Reports persisted in the domestic labor sector of deceitful employment promises, which were subsequently broken after individuals arrived in the country. Similar cases were reported among workers who circumvented labor protections by entering the country on tourist visas, with the intention of later converting these to work visas. The NCCHT reported that over the reporting period there was a trend of trafficking perpetrators from Asia.