Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Trafficking Tough to Tame in Rich Gulf States



From Reuters:

DUBAI (Reuters) - Aysha sold her wedding gold to pay traffickers $200 (100 pounds) to find her and a cousin jobs in Dubai.


A world away from her village in Uzbekistan, she was forced to work in a disco and expected to offer sex. Beaten by her Uzbek boss when she shooed prospective clients away, she and her cousin fled and hid in airport toilets for two days, surviving on tap water.


Aysha's story reveals the dark underbelly of glitzy, fast-paced Dubai, the Gulf Arab trade and tourism hub. It also highlights a problem that bedevils many states in the region and is a bone of contention with their close ally the United States.


The 26-year-old, who only identified herself as Aysha for fear the traffickers would hurt her family, supports her son and sick mother back home. "Some girls like going to discos but I am Muslim, I cannot go to places where people dance and drink let alone work there," she said at the shelter in Dubai where she now lives.


Tens of thousands of people arrive in Dubai and neighbouring states each year, seeking a better life in a region booming on record oil revenues. But the wealth on show in Dubai's sprawling shopping malls, skyscrapers and smart restaurants attracts traffickers too.


Foreign workers and expatriates with different lifestyles and cultures make up over 80 percent of the more than 4 million population in the United Arab Emirates, a Muslim country. Prostitution, even adultery, are illegal yet bars abound where women are available for sex.


In a 2007 report, the U.S. State Department accused its Gulf Arab allies of being among the worst offenders in failing to prevent people from being sold into sex and servitude. It put the UAE on "Tier 2 Watch List" for not doing enough but Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar joined Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan on a list of 16 states subject to possible sanctions.


In 2006, the UAE -- a wealthy seven-member federation including Abu Dhabi and Dubai -- passed the Arab world's first law aimed specifically at combating the trade in humans, with penalties ranging from five years to life in jail. Last month, the nearby Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which has a free trade pact with the United States, issued its own law.


"It is not a stigma on the UAE that human trafficking takes place because many prosperous, attractive places to live have this problem," said Anwar Gargash, a minister who heads a committee set up to coordinate efforts to implement the law. "The stigma is if we do nothing about it," he said. "We have done a lot ... but we have a long way to go."

Read the full article

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