Human trafficking law to be redrawn

Abu Dhabi, April 22: The Government will strengthen the law on human trafficking to make it easier to prosecute the gangs behind it, a senior Ministry of Interior official said yesterday.

Officials will redraw the classifications for human trafficking offences, Col Ahmed al Muharami, the manager of the human rights department at the ministry, said at a symposium in the capital.

The Government also plans to compile a database of offenders and victims to help keep tabs on the illegal trade and improve the sharing of information among UAE authorities.

There are also plans to improve co-ordination between departments, particularly the ministries of justice, interior, labour and the police, to make better use of existing laws.

The UAE has signed several international conventions on human trafficking, but the number of prosecutions remains limited.

In 2006, a federal law was introduced calling for a minimum of five years in prison for traffickers – the first such law in the Arab world.

The country has also ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.

“We already have the basics and now we are initiating efforts to improve our powers and police and security departments to protect us against this crime,” said Saif al Shafar, the under-secretary at the Ministry of Interior. He said the ministry was putting its “full effort” into tackling the problem.

Officials could not give current figures on human trafficking cases, but said the Ministry of Interior registered 10 in 2007, and only seven in all the years prior.

According to the Global Report on Trafficking Persons, released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in February, most victims in this country were women from Uzbekistan, Moldavia and South Asia who had been forced into prostitution. More than half of the convicted offenders were South Asian men.

Dr Abdullah bin Sahoa, the director of the Sharjah Naturalisation and Residency Department, said those issuing visas had a “vital role” to play in combating human trafficking.

“There are efforts within the department to bring it up to the standards of the new approach that the UAE is taking to this problem.”

He added that authorities needed to do more to follow up on visa violations.

He called for more vigilance checking passports at borders and more thorough checks when issuing visas.

“The issuing of visa permits needs to be controlled to ensure that the right people are coming in.”

The Ministry of Labour said it was trying to ensure people were not lured to the country under false pretences.

It added that “very stiff measures” would be imposed on companies that failed to pay workers.

Humaid bin Demas, the under-secretary at the Ministry of Labour, said that if a worker “is not getting a salary, he is being exploited”. He said 55 inspectors had been appointed over the past six months to ensure workers were properly paid.

In the past year, the Ministry of Labour has referred 50 employers who mistreated employees to the courts, he said.

As well as looking at ways to prosecute more human traffickers, the symposium discussed how to better safeguard and rehabilitate victims.

A new shelter for women and children who are victims of human trafficking was established in Abu Dhabi in 2008 and currently has about 35 residents.

Similar centres are planned for all the emirates, Mr al Shafar said.

As such facilities grow, so does their need for funding. Dr Ahmed Abed al Daher, a legal adviser at the ministry, called on the Government to set up a fund to compensate victims of human trafficking crimes and provide them with support and rehabilitation.

“There are funds here in the UAE that aren’t used and could be utilised for the victims of these crimes.”

Mr al Daher suggested the fund could be financed through the confiscations, zakat (alms), returns on endowments and uninherited money and estates.

Members of various ministries, the police, associations and activists all attended the start of the two-day symposium. It was one of the first events held by the Ministry of Interior’s new human rights department.