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Human trafficking

Human trafficking: the dirty secret behind the United Arab Emirates’ glittering skyscrapers

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The U.A.E. is not just a revolving door for dirty money. It also has significant ties to human trafficking, particularly in the construction industry. 

Only 16 cases of human trafficking, involving 28 victims, were registered last year, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Cooperation, compared to 25 cases involving 34 victims per the prior yearly report by the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking. But even though the numbers appear to be decreasing, human trafficking remains incredibly difficult to quantify. The majority of these cases involve prostitution and abuse of authority against domestic workers. The construction industry, on the other hand, tends to be above suspicion.

Construction: the hidden haven of human trafficking

Several international players in the construction world have sought to shine a light on the subject over the last decade. In 2009, Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and winner of the 2006 TED prize, addressed the issue of human trafficking in the construction industry in his 2009 TED talk, calling the U.A.E. out specifically. “In the last six months, more than 300 skyscrapers in the U.A.E. have been put on hold or canceled. Behind the headlines that lay behind these buildings is the fate of the often-indentured construction worker. 1.1 million of them,” he explains, before continuing. “Mainly Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Nepalese, these laborers risk everything to make money for their families back home. They pay a middle-man thousands of dollars to be there. And when they arrive, they find themselves in labor camps with no water, no air conditioning, and their passports taken away.”

Rachid*, a Pakistani worker, narrowly escaped. “When I arrived here (in Dubai) in 2015, I found myself at an enormous construction site with deplorable living conditions,” he emphasized, “my passport was essentially stolen from me, and I didn’t know how to leave.” Rasheed paints a devastating picture. “I worked without respite, sometimes without a single break the whole day,” he recounts, looking down, as if ashamed. “I must have lost ten kilos in three weeks, I never had enough to eat. It wasn’t what my family expected of me.” Like other workers in his situation, Rasheed eventually left the country to return to Pakistan, leaving behind his dreams of a decent salary, the hopes of his family back home, and over $2,500 with the malicious smugglers who accompanied him from Dubai only to desert him.

For Khaled, a 29-year-old Indian, the story isn’t over. He is desperate to name the group he worked for, but as he is still in the U.A.E., he restrains himself and conceals their identity. “It was in 2008, I was quite young,” he explains. “I came to the U.A.E. to join a construction project already underway. It was a hellish downward spiral. First, I was told there were hiring fees, I was made to sign a paper I couldn’t read.” He goes on, “I had no translator, and I didn’t find out until a month later that these ‘hiring fees’, equivalent to more than two-and-a-half years’ salary, would be withheld from my pay. So, I had nothing to live off of, and I was condemned to accept the inhuman living conditions.” Khaled bowed to fate and saw the contract out. Two-and-a-half years later, he left the construction site and was hired by another company where he works to this day and is quite happy. “Anyways, after what I went through, I think I could endure anything,” he concludes.

The appearance of heightened regulation since 2013

Despite this, pressure on the U.A.E. is quite recent, only going back to 2013, when it emerged for a very specific reason: the country’s organizing of the 2020 World’s Fair. Under the watchful eye of the international community, no misstep is allowed. But, outside the hubbub of construction for the event, human trafficking continues to abound, and few preventative or repressive measures have been taken. Amnesty International makes note of this in its 2017-2018 report. “[In 2017] migrant workers, who comprised the vast majority of the private workforce, continued to face exploitation and abuse. They remained tied to employers under the kafala sponsorship system and were denied collective bargaining rights,” they write. “Trade unions remained banned and migrant workers who engaged in strike action faced deportation and a one-year ban on returning to the UAE.”

Federal law no. 10 of 2017, limiting working hours and providing for weekly leave and 30 days’ paid annual leave as well as the right to retain personal documents, only came into effect in September of last year. The law also appears to enable employees to end their contract of employment if the employer violates any of its terms, and stipulates that disputes will be adjudicated by specialized tribunals as well as by courts. However, salaried migrant workers remain vulnerable to employers accusing them of overly broad and vague crimes such as “failing to protect their employer’s secrets”, which carry fines of up to Dh100,000 (USD 27,225) or a six-month prison sentence.

Amnesty International continues its warning about the current situation: “In September the UN CERD Committee expressed concern over the lack of monitoring and enforcement of measures to protect migrant workers, and over barriers faced by migrant workers in accessing justice, such as their unwillingness to submit complaints for fear of adverse repercussions.” If authorities do their job in the situation described, then for Cameron Sinclair, the private sector should also come under scrutiny. “While it’s easy to point the finger at local officials and higher authorities … the private sector [is] equally, if not more, accountable,” he maintains.

It would seem that given the absence of implementation of directives, despite official enactment, and the restriction of freedom of speech and association, human trafficking in the U.A.E.’s construction industry will be around for a while yet.

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International Organisation for Migration launches campaign against human trafficking in Sri Lanka

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The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has teamed up with the Sri Lankan government to launch a new initiative intended to help fight human trafficking on the South Asian island.

In partnership with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Legal Reforms, the agency is running a public information campaign intended to encourage victims of human trafficking and forced labour to come forward and report crimes committed against them.

The initiative, which will include advertisements run on TV and radio, is also intended to educate members of the public so as they are better able to spot the signs of human trafficking and forced labour and report concerns of any such crimes to police.

IOM Sri Lanka, which has provided grants to more than 90 human trafficking victims and vulnerable migrants since 2017, said the majority of cases it deals with relate to forced labour in Middle East countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Many Sri Lankan victims of human trafficking travel to such countries to seek work in the hospitality and domestic sectors.

The agency also highlighted cases in which men from Sri Lanka have suffered labour exploitation in Singapore and Malaysia in the construction industry, and one incident in which 12 Sri Lankan fishermen were trafficked to Somaliland.

Funded by the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the campaign will also be advertised through street theatre and billboards.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Anthony Renzulli, Chief Political Officer at the US Embassy in Colombo, said: “We must stop trafficking at its source and hold traffickers accountable; we must urge governments to implement their laws by building effective delivery systems of justice and protection; and we must proactively identify and provide needed services to survivors.

“If we are to accomplish all of these things, we must continue to refine our efforts and focus on impact.”

At the end of January, the Colombo Gazette reported that Pakistan had pledged to help Sri Lanka fight human trafficking and the illicit drug trade.

On a visit to Colombo, Pakistani Navy Commander Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi said the two nations should boost existing cooperation on security issues and improve information sharing.

“Pakistan will assist to repair the Sri Lanka Navy’s hovercraft and also to develop a library at the proposed National Defence College,” he said.

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Europe’s ‘most wanted’ man extradited back to Romania from UK to face sex trafficking and murder conspiracy charges

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Europe’s ‘most wanted’ man extradited

A man who is thought to be the leader of a major organised crime gang has been extradited from the UK to Romania to face trial, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Friday.

Florin Ghinea, known in the underworld by the nickname Ghenosu, was arrested by NCA officers as he left a gym in Watford back in August 2018 after he disappeared from Romania that May.

Ghinea, 45, was listed at the time as being one of Europol’s most wanted men, and was being sought for questioning by police in Romania in relation to a series of crimes including human trafficking, conspiracy to murder, blackmail and money laundering.

Investigators believe he headed up a sex trafficking ring that involved Romanian women being sent to locations including Dubai, Finland and Ireland.

Ghinea is also said to have conspired to have a criminal rival murdered.

He was flown from London to Bucharest on Wednesday following the conclusion of UK extradition proceedings.

Commenting on Ghinea’s removal from the UK, Head of European Operations for NCA International Dave Hucker said in a statement: “Ghinea was arrested as a result of some excellent joint working between the NCA and Romanian law enforcement.

“His departure is a huge success, and I’ve no doubt our streets are safer as a result.”

Ghinea was placed on the Europol wanted list in May 2018, and promptly disappeared from his home in Dambovita County before Romanian police carried out a raid.

Romanian prosecutors claimed at the time that he was tipped off by a crooked police officer before investigators were able to act.

After being extradited back to his native country this week, Ghinea was taken directly to a court in Bucharest to face charges of sex trafficking, money laundering, complicity in human trafficking, and being a member of an organised criminal gang.

Images posted online by Romanian media last week showed Ghinea being escorted through Bucharest airport by masked police officers.

Speaking after the alleged kingpin was apprehended in the UK back in 2018, NCA Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said his arrest had made UK streets safer.

“Ghinea was being sought by the Romanian authorities for some extremely serious offences, including human trafficking and murder, and was quite rightly regarded as one of Europe’s most wanted,” he said.

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Police arrest 26 members of gang that smuggled 900 African migrants into Spain by speedboat

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Spanish police have arrested 26 suspected members of an organised immigration crime gang that used speedboats to traffic migrants from Algeria and Morocco to the coastal cities of Almería and Cádiz.

The network is thought to have smuggled more than 900 migrants into Spain throughout the course of last year, charging each as much as €2,500 ($2,760).

In total, the gang is estimated to have made in excess of €1.5 million from the conspiracy.

An operation that targeted the network in November last year, the results of which have only just been revealed, saw investigators seize 17 vehicles, €20 000 in cash, and a large number of electronic devices.

Members of the gang based in Spain worked in close cooperation with associates situated in various locations across the North African coast, and are said to have had links to various other European countries including Belgium, France and Sweden.

Before smuggling migrants across the western Mediterranean, boat skippers on the African side of the operation contacted their associates in Spain to provide information about their expected time and place of arrival, as well as how many migrants they expected to have on board their boats.

Once they had arrived on Spanish soil, migrants would be charged an additional fee of up to €500 to be transported away from the port through which they entered the country.

The gang used a fleet of vehicles to move migrants from arrival areas to different parts of Spain, including Alicante, Almería, Barcelona, Lleida, Murcia and Tarragona.

After reaching these locations, migrants would either settle with family and friends already in the country or travel onward to other EU members states.

Migrants who could not afford to pay the extra fees demanded of them once they arrived in Spain were either abandoned by the gang, or forced to live in one of the network’s safehouses until a relative or friend was able to pay the money required.

The gang was able to further increase its profits by helping Moroccan female migrants obtain residence permits through false complaints of gender-based violence – a service for which network members charged €9 000.

Between January and November 2019, it is thought the gang shipped some 850 Algerians and around 50 Moroccan nationals into Spain.

The operation was supported by Europol, which provided Spanish investigators with intelligence analysis products, including a mobile office where operational data from arrests, house searches and seizures was cross-checked in real time.

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