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Human Trafficking in the United Arab EmiratesThe U.S. Department of State placed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tier 2 of 3 in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report. Tier 2 indicates the UAE does not comply with all standards for combatting human trafficking but is working toward compliance. The government has much work ahead to combat trafficking for forced labor. However, it is making strides against sex trafficking through its National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT).

Labor and Human Trafficking in the United Arab Emirates

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “about 90% of the UAE’s over-9-million-strong population consist[s] of foreign nationals” because the country relies heavily on migrant workers who primarily come from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The UAE uses the kafala system to manage its large migrant worker population.

Kafala began during the early twentieth century and expanded in the mid-1950s due to demand for labor as the Gulf countries made innovations in oil production technology. In the UAE, kafala allows private citizens to employ migrant workers. In turn, the employers agree to relinquish some of their political and social rights to the government. Kafala creates a significant power imbalance, favoring Emirati employers over migrant workers. As a result, migrant workers are at risk of falling prey to human trafficking and forced labor.

Labor trafficking is one of two major categories of human trafficking in the United Arab Emirates. The government made trafficking for forced labor and prostitution criminal offenses, punishable by fines, prison time with a maximum of life imprisonment and deportation for non-citizen perpetrators through Federal Law No. 51 of 2006. Even so, the enforcement of the law is weak for labor trafficking. Instead of investigating labor trafficking red flags as potential human trafficking indicators, the Emirati government treats signs of labor trafficking as labor issues and assigns lighter punishments to perpetrators.

The Fight Against Sex Trafficking in the United Arab Emirates

The other main category of human trafficking in the United Arab Emirates is sex trafficking. In response to sex trafficking, the country has been highly engaged in the fight against it. The NCCHT formed The ‘5 Ps’ Approach – Prevention, Prosecution, Punishment, Protection and Promotion – which has been a guiding force for responding to sex trafficking in the country.

Prevention

Shelters supporting sex trafficking victims have published informational packets via social media. These packets inform at-risk groups about indicators for human trafficking situations. Additionally, the Federal Public Prosecution published an online brochure. This brochure explains the punishments for people who know of human trafficking activities but do not report them. Prevention-category actions improve the public’s ability to identify trafficking and its consequences.

Prosecution and Punishment

Federal Law No. 51 of 2006 criminalizes human trafficking in the United Arab Emirates. In 2020-2021, the UAE prosecuted 54 people in 19 sex trafficking cases and found 15 individuals guilty. Although the numbers are not objectively high, the UAE is a leader in North Africa and the Middle East in the number of trafficking convictions. Additionally, most sentences in the UAE included three or more years of prison time, fines and deportation for non-citizen offenders.

Protection

Nonprofit and government shelters play a massive role in protecting sex trafficking victims. The Emirati government, religious institutions, hospitals, other institutions and various trafficking hotlines in the country refer victims to shelters. Shelters provide housing, medical and legal services, therapy and education. They also provide victims who are minors with additional support. Support for minors includes separate sleeping arrangements and educational programming tailored to their age level. The shelters also offer continued care after the victim leaves.

After the establishment of the 2006 trafficking law, two major shelters, EWAA Shelter for Women and Children in the country’s capital of Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC), opened in 2008 and 2007, respectfully. In 2020-2021, the Emirati government referred 23 sex trafficking victims to shelters, and the Aman Center for Women and Children in Ras Al Khaimah supported 10 additional sex trafficking victims. There are multiple shelters across the UAE, but data collection and reporting on victims and shelters is limited.

Promotion

The Emirati government runs a 24-hour trafficking hotline that promotes reporting of human trafficking cases by the public. DFWAC, the UAE’s Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation and the Ministry of Interior (MOI) also run trafficking hotlines. Additionally, the MOI operates a phone application where trafficking victims or witnesses can reach the police and submit trafficking reports.

In addition, the NCCHT, Dubai Police, MOI, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department and DFWAC have been running training programs and classes about implementing The ‘5 Ps’ Approach in the public safety and judicial sectors. During the NCCHT and Dubai Police’s “Human Trafficking Specialist” program in 2020, representatives from 30 police authorities in the UAE learned how to recognize human trafficking situations and support victims. The MOI’s nine anti-trafficking programs during 2020-2021 taught 918 police officers about how to approach trafficking situations, and the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department’s human trafficking classes reached 549 judges and public prosecutors during 2020-2021.

The government has made advances in the fight against human trafficking in the United Arab Emirates. The 2006 federal law criminalizing human trafficking provides an institutional start to combat labor trafficking and sex trafficking. The Emirati government’s commitment to combatting sex trafficking provides an inspiring example of how bold, concerted action can achieve human rights advances. The challenge lies in whether the government will further apply this mentality to labor trafficking.

– Anna Ryu
Photo: Unsplash

Human trafficking in Saudi ArabiaThe nation of Saudi Arabia is working to address a modernized form of human trafficking — apps that allow for the quick purchase of a domestic worker. According to the United States Department of State, during the 2019 reporting period, Saudi Arabia investigated 79 human trafficking cases and prosecuted 42. While this represented a significant decrease from the previous year, it still demonstrates the large scope of forced labor operations and human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

The Transaction of Human Trafficking

The digital world has changed the transaction process of many dealings. Unfortunately, this is also the case for human trafficking. Following the investigation of an undercover BBC News Arabic team, it is understood that modern slavery has moved to the online black market. Now, a buyer can purchase a domestic worker by downloading an app, such as Haraja or 4sale, and picking from a catalog of domestic laborers, ranging from maids to construction workers. Each person has a short description attached with comments on their character and work ethic. The apps also allow users to filter findings based on race. In one instance, a listing reads, “African worker, clean and smiley.”

Laborers are often bought for $2,000 to $3,000. When someone buys a laborer in the Middle East, a legal framework called the Kafala system places the worker under the control of their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. The laborer cannot quit or leave the country without the permission of their buyer, and workers have no rights under the host country’s labor laws. The Kafala system is a program meant to monitor migrant workers in Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. However, because employers can abuse and exploit their workers, the system inevitably creates a lucrative human trafficking market.

An employer can also sell their laborer for a profit. Whoever will pay the most will acquire the worker. Moreover, popular apps now power this negative cycle of buying and selling workers. Although this form of extortion is illegal in Saudi Arabia, the magnitude of immigrant workers and the corruption in law enforcement make it difficult to stop.

Who are the Laborers?

The laborers who end up in Saudi Arabia often come from surrounding developing nations like Ghana and Guinea. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is not the only nation facing this kind of online human trafficking. For example, people buy and sell laborers through apps in Kuwait in the same manner.

In 2019, the undercover BBC News Arabic team went to Kuwait to discover how easy it was to buy another person online through these human trafficking apps. The journalists posed as a married couple interested in buying a maid. They searched the websites and apps in hopes of talking to one of the laborers. Eventually, a seller offered them a 16-year-old maid. Having an underage worker is both illegal in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and is also in violation of international human rights laws. The journalists took their information to the police. Within a few days, they found the girl a new home with an adopted family in Guinea. Unfortunately, many laborers cannot escape the cycle of human trafficking because of the Kafala system and continue to experience extreme abuse and dehumanization. 

Government Efforts

The nation of Saudi Arabia has been labeled a Tier 2 on the U.S. Department of State watch list for human trafficking in 2020. According to the U.S. government, “The Government of Saudi Arabia does not fully meet the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.”

In 2020, Saudi Arabia moved from a Tier 3 to a Tier 2. This is because of the implementation of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The plan is to help victims of extortion by establishing prevention measures and protective resources. This program hopes to stop or reduce the amount of slavery and human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

The NRM works alongside the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to end human trafficking. The NRM has many facets to reach this goal. It provides help phone lines, data collection and training to spot and stop human trafficking. The program uses the combined efforts of education and policy to reduce and eventually end human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. Although the issue is still prevalent, efforts to stop human trafficking in Saudi Arabia are moving in the right direction.

– Rachel Wolf
Photo: Flickr

Migrant workers in Lebanon
For decades, the Lebanese economy has relied heavily on migrant workers to supplement the workforce. The economy provided necessary domestic services and filled up low-level positions in retail, salons and hospitality. The kafala system, a program that encourages employers to hire migrant workers in Lebanon, fueled a sense of dependence on migrant workers in various industries. This institution creates great racial and economic inequality. The employers abuse the migrant workers and offer them substandard pay and inhumane working conditions. This immense disparity worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The employers placed workers in unsafe situations, forcing them to endure terrible conditions with the imminent threat of job termination.

Refugees and the Kafala System

Currently, refugees and migrant workers make up a quarter of Lebanon’s population. This renders them an extremely valuable sector of society. Tensions between local-born Lebanese citizens and refugees developed during past years. Lebanese individuals and armed forces committed several acts of violence against refugees out of spite and anger. In addition, nearly 90% of Syrian refugees become unemployed and unable to meet housing costs in 2020. Employers fired domestic migrant workers at an alarming rate since the pandemic.

The Anti-Racism Movement found that Lebanese employers terminated their migrant workers, likely due to racial bias. Nevertheless, gaining Lebanese citizenship as a migrant worker is nearly impossible. Due to an antiquated nationality policy set up during the French mandate, only children born to a Lebanese father may obtain full legal status as a Lebanese national. Thus, no feasible pathway exists to permanent residence and legal protection for migrant workers in Lebanon. They end up at the mercy of their employers to keep them in the country.

Medical Inequality Among Migrant Workers

For many migrant workers, medical inequality has become especially prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the cruel implements of the kafala system, migrant workers rely on their employers to provide them with legal residency status. Without Lebanese nationality, these workers do not have entitlement to these benefits that other people within Lebanon possess. Lack of health coverage discourages these migrant workers from seeking out medical help and accessing the treatments they need to ensure their personal wellbeing. As unemployment has continued to rise, thousands of migrant workers are left with no healthcare or legal status. They must return to their home countries, despite the potential endangerment that awaits them.

In an international relations briefing by Natasha Hall, the author notes that “ensuring that people are not prioritized for medical treatment by nationality, as medicine disappears from shelves and intensive care units fill up, is another serious concern.” Migrant workers in Lebanon end up not being able to access treatments due to a lack of insurance and inadequate financial means. This is similar to the United States and other countries that experience inequality. Lebanon faces economic complications, such as inflation rates rising and banks refusing to withdraw money for their customers. It has become nearly impossible for people to obtain the medications they need. Lebanon sustains its medication supply due to imported drugs. Due to the trade challenges facing the nation, Lebanese citizens cannot obtain medicine for their health conditions.

Hope for an End to Migrant Worker Inequality

The kafala system is extremely ruthless. It puts migrant workers at a socio-economic position far below the average Lebanese citizen. This caused a public outcry, sparking change and encouraging reform to the system. According to the Human Rights Watch, “Amendments to the system [in 2020] provide guarantees for workers including 48-hour work weeks, a rest day, overtime payment, as well as sick and annual leaves. Workers can now terminate their contracts without their employer’s consent.” Increased regulations have provided an added layer of protection to the rights of migrant workers in Lebanon.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Lebanon
Although making some positive strides in recent years, Lebanon is still behind some of its regional counterparts when it comes to women’s rights. Women in Lebanon still lack important protections against abuse and violence, personal status laws and representation under civil and religious law. Here are seven facts about women’s rights in Lebanon.

7 Facts About Women’s Rights in Lebanon

  1. Civil Code vs. Religious Laws: Lebanon has 15 personal status laws that are religion-based (Shia, Sunni and Druze) but has no civil code covering personal status issues such as divorce, custody of children or property rights. The religious courts preside over cases of personal status and operate with very little government oversight, resulting in the repeated violation of women’s rights. Because Lebanon’s constitution guarantees respect for “personal status and religious interests,” religious authorities have been keeping personal status laws under their control.
  2. Domestic Violence: The Lebanese parliament passed a domestic violence law in 2014, which includes protection measures, such as restraining orders and policing and court reforms, as well as funding to enact the reforms. The law also introduced an official definition of domestic violence into the Lebanese criminal code. However, Lebanese women are still at risk of marital rape, which because of pressure from religious authorities, is not apart of the criminal code. A spouse’s threat or violence to claim “marital right to intercourse” is a crime, but the actual physical act is not.
  3. Migrant Domestic Workers: The Kafala system allows migrants, mainly women from Africa and South East Asia, to work in Lebanon as domestic workers. The employers of the workers are in charge of their legal residency, as well as whether they can change or leave employers. Labor law protections, like minimum wage, working hour limits and overtime pay, exclude migrant workers. This lack of employer accountability often leads to cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. In March 2020, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Labour met to discuss the reform of the Kafala system, but no legislation has been introduced as of yet.
  4. Child Marriage: Lebanon currently has no national minimum age of marriage. Instead, religious courts regulate when people can marry. The Human Rights Watch found that early marriage can lead to a higher risk of marital rape, exploitation, domestic violence and health problems. Those most at risk include Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon has committed to eliminating child marriage by 2030 and reducing it by 20% by 2020. Currently, the Lebanese Higher Council for Childhood is developing a national strategy and action plan to address this problem. However, many drafts of law raising the legal age of marriage to 18 have not passed through the Lebanese parliament because of religious backlash.
  5. Representation in Politics: The Lebanese government created the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, however, this is largely symbolic and the first minister is a man. The Global Gender Report Gap states that gender equality in politics stands at 0.01%, as Lebanon has never had a woman as head of state and 97% of parliament is male. Currently, women’s organizations in Lebanon are demanding that parliament set a quota that 30% of seats should be for women, as no quota currently exists.
  6. Nationality Law: Lebanese women cannot pass their nationality to their children or foreign husbands, unlike Lebanese men. This deprives children of citizenship and increases the risk of statelessness. The Lebanese government has failed to address this issue, citing the threat of naturalization and resettlement of Palestinian and Syrian refugees as a reason not to change this law for women. The only exception is for unmarried mothers, as this group can pass on their nationality to their child if one year has passed and the child is still nationless.
  7. Activism in Lebanon: One prominent group advocating for women in Lebanon is KAFA. It is a feminist, secular, Lebanese, nonprofit organization fighting against discrimination against women. The organization focuses on family violence, human trafficking and child protection. This group was instrumental in the passing of the law against domestic violence in Lebanon’s parliament.

Many of the setbacks women face are the product of the fact that approximately 2.7 million people in Lebanon are living in poverty. Men, who have historically always held political and religious power, deprive women of rights as a strategy to keep women and children financially tied to men. This means money stays in the hands of majority groups and used at their discretion. However, many international and domestic groups are fighting through institutions and on the ground for representation, protection and power. This activism and attention may lead to a large improvement in women’s rights in Lebanon in the years to come.

– Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

Labor reforms in Qatar
In the prelude to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar received relentless criticism on migrants’ working conditions from the international community and mass media, causing the government to transform its labor system and uphold the rights of migrant workers through sweeping reforms.

Kafala System

Qatar’s kafala system ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers by requiring them to obtain their permission (a no-objection certificate) in order to change jobs. This, in turn, gives the employer entire control over the exit visa of his employees. This sponsorship and visa system not only leads to abuses and exploitation of labor practices, including the confiscation of migrant workers’ passports, but it also prevents a local domestic labor market from operating. Thus, radical labor reforms in Qatar are necessary in order for the country to develop itself according to international standards and to modernize its economy.

Recent Reforms

One of the significant steps Qatar made in 2017 was concluding a cooperation accord with the International Labor Organization (ILO). It stated that it would set a minimum wage and promised to repeal the kafala system. Later in 2017, Qatar introduced a temporary minimum wage of 750 Qatari Rial (approximately $200) and plans on introducing a non-discriminatory minimum wage by the end of 2019, making it the first country in the Gulf region to do so. These labor reforms in Qatar will improve migrant workers’ rights significantly, which will not only increase their working conditions but also their motivation to work, resulting in a more efficient and productive economy. In addition, Law No. 13 entered into force in October 2018, stating that migrant workers would no longer need their employers’ permission to enter and exit the country. These laws contribute to transforming Qatar’s current system into a modern industrial relations system.

Ending the Kafala System

However, Qatar still has not abolished the kafala system which caused hundreds of workers to go on strike and protest in August 2019. This is barring the fact that Qatari law strictly bans joining unions and participating in strikes. Protesting workers have reported that they have not received pay for months and are not receiving their renewed working permits from their employers, making it illegal for them to stay in the country. Consequently, Qatar’s Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs announced that the reform ending the Kafala system will enter into force in January 2020, facilitating the efficacy of the other recently introduced reforms as a whole.

Issue of Irregular Migration

Although positive, these reforms and Labor Laws do not cover migrant domestic workers with a local Qatari contract, meaning that the Labor Law does not protect them and they cannot seek assistance from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. By excluding migrant domestic workers, Qatar is not tackling the issue of irregular migrants and the illegality of employment, which is a major concern for the local authorities. The Sponsorship Law binds domestic migrant workers to their employers, and so, if they suffer abuse, they are likely to abscond and either seek illegal work in the country or attempt to return to their home country. An underground informal labor market developed in Qatar due to the high number of irregular workers looking for work, which is a predominant issue for the government. Indeed, one of the key objectives included in the Qatar National Vision 2030 is to develop a knowledge-based economy consisting of highly skilled people and reduce Qatar’s dependency on low-skilled foreign nationals. Therefore, the inclusion of domestic migrant workers and resolving the issue of irregular/illegal workers is essential for Qatar’s plan to become a modern economy with highly-skilled people.

The current labor reforms in Qatar are a major step towards improving the human rights of the millions of migrant workers living in the country, in addition to contributing to the development of Qatar’s fast-growing economy. Despite the implementation of these laws seeming interminable, Qatar focuses on long-lasting and profound changes in its labor market with the help and recognition of international organizations such as the ILO and the United Nations.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Pixabay