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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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US porn site owners charged with sex trafficking offences after ‘coercing young women to appear in adult videos’

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US porn site owners charged with sex trafficking offences

Prosecutors in the US state of San Diego have charged two owners of pornography websites with sex trafficking offences after they allegedly tricked young woman into appearing in adult films.

Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe, the owners of GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys, stand accused of using deception and false promises to entrap victims.

Pratt and Wolfe, alongside adult film performer and producer Ruben Andre Garcia and administrative assistant Valorie Moser, are said to have posted advertisements for modeling work paying $5,000, failing to mention that the job would involve performing in pornographic films.

The suspects are accused of tricking victims into performing sex acts in front of video cameras.

Women were falsely told they would remain anonymous and that the resultant footage would not be posted on the internet.

Despite their assurances, the accused put film of victims online, prosecutors allege.

In some instances, victims are said to have been pressured into signing documents without having been given ample opportunity to review them, and were then threatened with legal action or outing if they refused to perform in pornographic movies.

It is also alleged that some victims were prevented from leaving filming locations until they had performed as directed by the accused.

Once films featuring the victims were posted online, some were identified by friends, family and members of the public, with a number facing ridicule, harassment and estrangement from relatives as a result, according to prosecutors.

Some victims are said to have been forced to go through with certain sex acts they had initially declined to perform, in some cases facing sexual assault and even rape.

Financial records show that websites owned by Pratt and Wolfe have generated more than $17 million in revenue.

The pair face a maximum penalty of life behind bars and a $250,000 fine if found guilty of the charges they face, which are separate from an ongoing civil action in which 22 anonymous plaintiffs claim they were deceived about the adult nature of films in which they appeared.

Women targeted by the porn site owners claim they were told the films would be distributed to private buyers overseas and not posted on adult websites.

Victims allege footage was in fact posted on popular adult film platform Pornhub, and that they faced harassment and doxing as a consequence.

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Indonesian and Malaysian police take part in Interpol-backed crackdown on people smuggling networks

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Indonesian and Malaysian police take part in Interpol-backed crackdown

Law enforcement agencies in Indonesia and Malaysia have taken part in an Interpol-backed operation to crack down on human trafficking via established people smuggling routes.

In an operation that took place at the end of last month, the joint effort involved investigators from the two Southeast Asian countries identifying and breaking up established criminal people smuggling networks, particularly those that use either or both countries as transit hubs through which to traffic their human cargo to their final destinations.

Over three days, authorities participating in the initiative carried out reinforced border checks at Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur’s international airports, with assistance being provided by Interpol’s Integrated Border Management Task Force and Vulnerable Communities Unit.

Elsewhere, police carried out several targeted raids along known people smuggling routes in the region.

The operation resulted in the arrest of two alleged human traffickers and the identification of 30 suspected migrants.

Police said the suspected people smugglers were held on suspicion of transporting men and women to work in the fisheries sector.

In total, the operation resulted in law enforcement agents conducting over 266,000 checks against Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents and criminal databases, leading to five matches that are currently being investigated by the relevant member nations.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Fadil Marsus, Principal Assistant Director of Royal Malaysia Police’s Anti Trafficking in Persons Division, said in a statement: “It is crucial for law enforcement to build bridges with our counterparts in the region.

“Working via Interpol provides a secure platform for us to efficiently exchange information that could otherwise take days, weeks or months to obtain.”

Interpol said that regional members of its Specialised Operational Network against people smuggling actively contributed to the initiative, and will continue to follow up on leads, ensuring multi-agency cooperation continues to yield results.

In July, a report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned that organised crime networks operating in Southeast Asia are generating record and even dangerous levels profit.

According to the study, most human trafficking victims in the region are smuggled from less developed countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam to more developed nations including China, Malaysia and Thailand.

“The trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation remains a serious problem in most countries in the region,” the study said.

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Welsh police shut down static caravan linked to prostitution and human trafficking

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static caravan linked to prostitution and human trafficking

Police in Wales have shut down a dilapidated caravan that investigators believe was “associated with prostitution and human trafficking”.

Officers from North Wales Police raided the caravan at Manaw Farm in Bodedern earlier this week and were granted an initial 48-hour closure notice.

The force was then able to present magistrates with evidence that the static caravan had been associated with prostitution and human trafficking “over a prolonged period of time”, which led to the approval of a three-month closure order.

In a statement, North Wales Police said the order was granted under Section 79 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which allows UK magistrates to order the closure of a property once provided with evidence that it is in some way connected with criminality.

Commenting on the force’s Priority Crime Team securing the order, Detective Sergeant Andrew Davies said: “This order demonstrates that we have listened to the concerns of those living in the locality and it sends out a message to those individuals who wish to engage in acts of criminality within the community, that their actions are having a major impact and disrupting the peaceful lives of innocent members of the public.

“We will continue to take action against those who engage in such activity and in doing so, disrupt the lives of others within the community.”

Over recent years, human trafficking gangs in the UK have increasingly started housing sex workers in similar types of temporary accommodation in order to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities.

While it is thought the caravan in Wales had been used for the purposes of prostitution and human trafficking for a prolonged period, sex traffickers operating across Britain regularly set up so-called “pop-up brothels”, where prostitutes are forced to work for short periods of time before being moved on to avoid detection by police.

At the end of last month, it was reported that police in the UK city of Plymouth shut down a pop-up brothel after being provided with intelligence from a member of the public.

Last year, a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade said: “Pop-up brothels are changing migration patterns with huge numbers of women, particularly from Eastern Europe, being brought in by [trafficking] groups to service British men who have an expectation of an absolute right to buy sex.”

The phenomenon has also become a major problem in the US, where Airbnb last year teamed up with anti-trafficking NGO Polaris to prevent its properties being used as pop-up brothels.

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