Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 - United Arab Emirates


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a destination, and to a lesser extent transit , country for men and women, predominantly from South and Southeast Asia, who are subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. Migrant workers, who comprise more than 90 percent of the UAE’s private sector workforce, are recruited from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, Thailand, Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Philippines. Women from some of these countries travel willingly to the UAE to work as domestic servants, secretaries, beauticians, and hotel cleaners, but some are subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor, including unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, or physical or sexual abuse. Restrictive sponsorship laws for foreign domestic workers often give employers power to control domestic workers’ movements, threaten them with abuse of legal processes, and make them vulnerable to exploitation. Men from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal are drawn to the UAE for work in the construction sector; some are subjected to conditions of forced labor, including debt bondage as they struggle to pay off debts for recruitment fees. In some cases, employers have declared bankruptcy and fled the country, effectively abandoning their employees in conditions vulnerable to labor exploitation. Some women from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Far East, East Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco are subjected to forced prostitution in the UAE.

The Government of the United Arab Emirates does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. This year, the government continued to prosecute and punish sex trafficking offenders, though its efforts to combat forced labor were lacking. The government’s failure to address labor and other forms of trafficking continues to be a gap in the Emirates’ law enforcement efforts against trafficking. However, during the reporting period, in direct response to indicators of forced labor of temporary migrant workers and domestic servants, the government implemented victim identification procedures, drafted a law to protect domestic workers, and continued to aggressively enforce its Wage Protection System, which is intended to ensure the payment of wages to workers. The government continued to implement its anti-trafficking awareness campaigns and to refer identified sex trafficking victims to protective services. In addition, the government invited Dr. Joy Ezeilo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, in April 2012 to conduct a fact-finding mission on trafficking issues in the UAE and offer recommendations to strengthen government efforts against trafficking. Nonetheless, labor trafficking victims remained largely unprotected and, due to the government’s lack of capacity to identify victims of forced labor among vulnerable populations, victims may be punished for immigration and other violations.

Recommendations for the United Arab Emirates: Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish labor trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including recruitment agents and employers who subject workers to forced labor; enact and implement the draft law addressing the protection of domestic workers’ rights; institute formal procedures to identify proactively victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as workers subjected to labor abuses, those apprehended for violations of immigration laws, domestic workers who have fled their employers, and foreign females in prostitution; provide protection services to all victims of trafficking, including by extending protection to victims of forced labor on par with victims of forced prostitution; ensure trafficking victims are not incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, including victims of forced labor; enforce prohibitions on withholding of workers’ passports; extend labor law protections to domestic workers; and reform the sponsorship system so it does not provide excessive power to sponsors or employers in granting and sustaining the legal status of workers.


The UAE government sustained its strong law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking during the reporting period, but again failed to take any discernible measures to investigate or punish forced labor offenses. The UAE prohibits all forms of trafficking under its federal law Number 51 of 2006, which prescribes penalties ranging from one year in prison to life imprisonment, as well as fines and deportation if the trafficker is an expatriate. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In November 2010, the Dubai authorities established a special court to expedite human trafficking prosecutions in that Emirate. During the reporting period, the UAE government continued to combat sex trafficking, investigating 44 cases in 2011, two of which involved victims under the age of 18. Thirty-seven of these cases were prosecuted under the anti-trafficking law, which is a significant decrease from the 58 sex trafficking cases prosecuted in 2010. According to the government’s 2011-2012 annual human trafficking report, the 37 prosecutions yielded 111 arrests and involved 51 victims; 19 traffickers were convicted and punished with prison terms including life imprisonment. Despite the UAE’s prohibition of labor trafficking offenses, the government only reported the prosecution of one forced labor case under the anti-trafficking law. In January 2011, two women were charged with forced labor offenses for forcing a woman to work in a massage parlor; they were also charged with forced prostitution of two other victims. The prosecution was still ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government failed to report any convictions or punishments for forced labor during the reporting period. Prohibitions against practices that greatly contribute to forced labor, such as the widespread withholding of workers’ passports, remained unenforced. The government continued to respond to workers’ complaints of unpaid wages, but this response was largely limited to administrative remedies, including fines or mediation to recover the wages; seldom did the government criminally investigate or punish an employer. The government’s inter-ministerial National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) and Dubai authorities continued to train judicial and law enforcement officials and staff of the government’s social services agency on human trafficking issues. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) also conducted 47 internal training courses for over 1,000 anti-trafficking specialists in 2011, and anti-trafficking courses were added to police academies’ curriculums. The NCCHT also finalized a data collection methodology to establish a central database for law enforcement officers working on anti-trafficking cases. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for government complicity in trafficking offenses. The government reported actively cooperating with other countries and international agencies on international trafficking investigations during the year. For example, UAE cooperated with Azerbaijani authorities to extradite three Azerbaijani traffickers who were listed on an INTERPOL watch list.


The UAE government made sustained, yet uneven, progress in protecting victims of trafficking during the reporting period. Although it continued to provide services to victims of sex trafficking, it demonstrated no efforts to improve care for victims of forced labor. The government continues to fund shelters for female and child victims of trafficking and abuse in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, and Sharjah. These facilities provide medical, psychological, legal, educational, and vocational assistance to victims of trafficking. While the government does not provide shelter services for male victims of trafficking, in 2011, the Ministry of Labor in Dubai provided alternative options for some laborers who were abandoned by their employers, including repatriation, filing a grievance against the employer, or locating a new employer. In the first half of 2011, the Dubai shelter assisted 19 victims of trafficking and the Abu Dhabi shelter assisted 29 women and children trafficking victims, which is a significant decrease from the 49 and 71 victims the shelters assisted in 2010. The Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah shelters assisted 15 and 14 victims, respectively, in 2011. Two victims referred to shelter services in 2011 were UAE nationals who were forced into prostitution by family members. Once identified, victims reportedly were not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as prostitution offenses. Authorities report that government officials, including the police, as well as houses of worship and community centers, refer victims to shelters. The government reportedly identified and referred 32 sex trafficking victims to care facilities in the first nine months of 2011. The government continued to implement aggressively its anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, and the MOI implemented new victim identification procedures during 2011. Police stations designated personnel and implemented standard operating procedures to identify victims of both sex and labor trafficking; however, some victims may have remained unidentified due to capacity issues. As a result, some victims of sex trafficking, who the government did not identify, may have been penalized through incarceration, fines, or deportation for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. To attempt to remedy this problem, the government reportedly has a referral process to improve the identification of trafficking victims in detention or prison and refer them to a local shelter; NGOs report the referral system works well in practice. Moreover, in January 2012, shelter representatives reported that the MOI implemented a system to place suspected trafficking victims in a transitional facility, instead of a detention center, until victim identification is completed.

The government encouraged identified victims of sex trafficking to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers by providing victims with housing and sometimes employment. Nonetheless, the UAE continues to fail to recognize forced labor victims, particularly if they are over the age of 18 and entered the country voluntarily. While the UAE government exempts victims of trafficking from paying fines accrued for overstaying their visas, the government did not offer victims of labor trafficking – likely the most prevalent form of trafficking in the UAE – shelter, counseling, or immigration relief. Domestic workers who fled from their employers often accessed limited assistance at their embassies, but largely were presumed to be violators of the law by UAE authorities. The UAE government did not actively encourage victims of labor trafficking to participate in investigations or prosecutions, and it did not initiate proactive investigations of forced labor offenses committed against these victims. In addition, although training for law enforcement officials included training on victim identification, the government does not have formal procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among high risk persons with whom they come in contact. As a result, victims of forced labor may have been punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as immigration violations. The government did not provide long-term legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries where they faced retribution or hardship.


The UAE government continued to make anti-trafficking prevention efforts a priority during the reporting period. The government and Dubai police conducted anti-trafficking information and education campaigns within the UAE and with source country embassies, and expanded an advertisement campaign, which was implemented in 2010 in the Abu Dhabi and Al Ain international airports, to additional international airports throughout the country. The government also restricted the issuance of tourist visas to certain vulnerable populations that had been subject to sex trafficking. The UAE’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a draft law in January 2012 protecting the rights of domestic workers, which awaited presidential approval and subsequent implementation at the end of the reporting period. The NCCHT re-launched its website to raise awareness of trafficking and established a toll-free hotline to report labor abuses. The MOI also conducted lectures on forced labor issues, which reached nearly 52,000 foreign workers in companies and institutions across the country. The government was transparent about its anti-trafficking efforts, as it continued to publish an annual public report on its anti-trafficking measures. In April 2012, the government also invited the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons to conduct an assessment on trafficking in the UAE and provide recommendations to increase government awareness and strengthen efforts to combat trafficking. Government authorities produced and translated into source country languages pamphlets on workers’ rights and resources for assistance for distribution to migrant workers. In addition, the Dubai Police’s Human Trafficking Crimes Control Center reported it conducted 1,648 inspections of labor camps in 2011 and received 668 complaints to its labor hotline; however, none of the cases received by the hotline were deemed labor trafficking. Additionally, the government sustained its Wage Protection System (WPS), an electronic salary monitoring system intended to ensure workers receive their salaries. Monitored by the Ministry of Labor, the WPS has penalized over 600 employers who have failed to register their wage payments. Approximately 2.85 million workers and 205,000 of the 250,000 registered companies have enrolled in the WPS since its launch in 2009. In 2011, the UAE also implemented a system to verify contracts with some labor source countries to protect workers from contract substitution and other fraudulent activities. The government, however, did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the UAE or child sex tourism by UAE nationals.