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Human trafficking

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




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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Delta Air Lines donates 100 flights and additional $1.5 million to US human trafficking charity Polaris



US airline Delta has donated over 100 flights for survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery in cooperation with Polaris, the operator of America’s National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The airline, which has also donated an additional $1.5 million to the charity on top of the $1 million it provided back in 2017, has provided the flights to help transport trafficking survivors and victims through SkyWish, a mileage donation programme.

In a statement, Delta said the additional money will be used by the charity over the next three years to analyse data on human trafficking and modern slavery, and to help staff the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which takes as many as 300 calls a day.

The airline notes that since it made its original donation to Polaris, the charity has seen a 36% rise in the number of contacts it receives from trafficking victims and survivors.

“It’s rewarding to see tangible results of our partnership with Polaris helping the fight against human trafficking, and watching our support change lives,” commented Allison Ausband, who is leader of Delta’s Executive Steering Committee Against Human Trafficking.

“The problem of human trafficking has to be aggressively combatted from every angle, and for Delta that means getting our nearly 200 million customers and 80,000 employees onboard in the fight.  We all have a role to play and can make a difference.”

Back in January, during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the US, Delta unveiled enhanced anti-human trafficking measures intended to help its staff members and passengers spot the signs that somebody might be travelling under duress, and what to do if they suspect this might be the case.

At around the same time, global hotel chain Marriott announced that it had taught some 500,000 of its employees how to spot the signs that a guest might be a victim of human trafficking, and what they should do in the event they are faced with such a scenario.

Among other things, Marriott staff members were told to be on the lookout for vulnerable young people who might be travelling with minimal luggage and clothing, while being escorted by multiple men to a guest room.

Workers were also instructed to be alert for individuals who appear unable to speak freely or seem disoriented, and guests who insist on receiving little or no housekeeping.

Commenting on the education programme, David Rodriguez, Chief Global Human Resources Officer at Marriott International, said at the time: “Hotels can unfortunately be unwilling venues for this unconscionable crime – and as a global hotel company that cares about human rights, we’re proud to be training hotel workers across the Marriott system to spot the signs.”


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Pan-European crackdown on human trafficking and modern slavery results in 70 arrests



pan-European crackdown on human trafficking

A Europe-wide crackdown on modern slavery and human trafficking supported by Europol and led by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has resulted in the arrest of 70 suspects and the rescue of scores of victims.

The week-long operation, which took place back in June and involved law enforcement authorities from 15 EU member states, Iceland and Switzerland, saw investigators run checks on 127,000 individuals, 63,800 vehicles and 1,100 locations.

As well as the identification and apprehension of 70 people on suspicion of trafficking in human beings and other offences such as robbery, dissemination of child sexual exploitation material and the facilitation of illegal immigration, the pan-European initiative resulted in the rescue of 206 potential trafficking victims, 53 of whom were confirmed to be minors.

In a statement, Europol said it had facilitated the exchange of information between participating countries during the operation, which also involved contributions from experts in human trafficking, child protection officers, social workers, representatives of municipalities and non-governmental organisations.

In the UK alone, NCA officers detained 44 suspects and identified 35 potential victims as part of the operation after it and its partners carried out 203 visits across business and residential premises, where they carried out welfare and safeguarding checks and awareness raising.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Head of the NCA’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit Adam Thompson, said: “This co-ordinated week of activity aimed to disrupt and build intelligence on the criminal networks involved in modern slavery and human trafficking.

“In the UK this led to dozens of potential victims being safeguarded. These are people who are often vulnerable and may not recognise themselves as victims until it is too late.

“Working with our partners across law enforcement here and abroad we are determined to do all we can to fight modern slavery and tackle the criminal groups involved. But we can’t do that on our own, and information from the public is vital to us.”

The countries that participated in the initiative were: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

News of the operation comes after UN chief Antonio Guterres last month marked the organisation’s annual awareness-raising day about the crime by saying that bolder action is required to tackle the global scourge of human trafficking.

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Scores of human trafficking victims rescued in West Africa Interpol crackdown



human trafficking victims rescued in West Africa

An Interpol-coordinated operation intended to strengthen border controls in West Africa has resulted in the rescue of over 100 suspected victims of human trafficking, including 35 children.

Operation Adwenpa IV, which took place over a seven-day period last month, involved more than 200 officers from law enforcement agencies in 13 countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Many of the children who were rescued as a result of the effort, who were aged between 12 and 17, were discovered around the land border between Benin and Niger.

Meanwhile in Ghana, law enforcement agents identified and rescued more than 50 potential human trafficking victims who were being transported to the Middle East for employment.

Investigators participating in the operation made use of Mind technology, which allowed them access to Interpol’s database of wanted people and stolen and lost travel documents.

The technology was implemented at 23 airports and land border operational hubs over the course of the initiative.

As well as the identification and rescue of suspected human trafficking victims, the operation also resulted in the identification of a man who was travelling with six solid gold bars worth an estimated $120,000 at the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Elsewhere, police intercepted smugglers as they attempted to traffic 1.2 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceutical products estimated to be worth more than $1 million into the Côte d’Ivoire from Ghana.

Quantities of illicit drugs were also seized across the region, including cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines.

“Funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, Adwenpa IV builds on the success of the previous three such operations as part of a multi-year capacity building programme to strengthen border management in West Africa,” Interpol said in a statement.

Back in April, Interpol announced that a separate operation it had led in West Africa had resulted in the rescue of almost 220 suspected trafficking gang victims in Benin and Nigeria.

Operation Epervier II saw investigators carry out raids and identity checks at markets, airports, seaports and in settlements, resulting in the detention of 47 suspected human traffickers, and the seizure of several vehicles, mobile phones and computers, as well as a quantity of cash.

Law enforcement officers taking part in the operation rescued suspected trafficking victims from premises where it is thought they were being forced to work as prostitutes.

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