Woman es­capes hor­ror of sex slav­ery

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — Each year, thou­sands of peo­ple world­wide leave their coun­tries of birth to go and work in the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE).

Se­duced by high salaries that are not taxed, the coun­try’s op­u­lent life­style and its con­stantly grow­ing econ­omy that of­fers many job op­por­tu­ni­ties, the UAE is favoured by count­less ex­pa­tri­ates as the coun­try to go to to make money then re­turn home.

What many do not know, how­ever, is that the very same boom­ing econ­omy that at­tracts peo­ple from all over the world has turned some parts of the UAE, es­pe­cially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, into a haven for hu­man traf­fick­ers.

Many un­sus­pect­ing women are tricked into go­ing to the UAE with prom­ises of get­ting jobs as hair­dressers, mod­els, wait­resses, chefs, do­mes­tic work­ers and flight at­ten­dants.

How­ever, they later find them­selves in the clutches of traf­fick­ers who then use them as slaves or as pros­ti­tutes.

Not be­ing able to speak the lo­cal lan­guage, hav­ing no one to turn to and not hav­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments which the traf­fick­ers con­fis­cate as soon as they land in the coun­try, the vic­tims find them­selves un­der the com­plete con­trol of their traf­fick­ers.

Some of them come from coun­tries where cor­rup­tion is em­bed­ded in the po­lice force and even when they see the po­lice they do not ask for help as they be­lieve that they work with the traf­fick­ers.

It is only when they fall ill, have been beaten to a pulp, or are in labour and have to be taken to hos­pi­tal that of­fi­cials be­come aware of their sit­u­a­tion and no­tify the po­lice.

In one in­stance, they came across a mother and daugh­ter who had been traf­ficked and forced into pros­ti­tu­tion to­gether.

It was for this rea­son that the UAE gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished Ewaa Shel­ters for Women and Chil­dren Vic­tims of Hu­man Traf­fick­ing in the hope of com­bat­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing and help­ing its vic­tims.

Lo­cated in se­cret lo­ca­tions, the shel­ters pro­vide coun­selling and med­i­cal at­ten­tion, and teach com­puter skills and em­broi­dery to the vic­tims so that when they fi­nally get back home they can make a living.

The shel­ters also fly them home and give them money to sur­vive for a while as they try to rebuild their lives.

Sarah Shuhail, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the shel­ters, said what was com­mon among the vic­tims was that they came from poor coun­tries, coun­tries af­fected by war or coun­tries hit by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

They are tricked into go­ing to the UAE by peo­ple in their own coun­tries mas­querad­ing as em­ploy­ment agents when they were in fact un­der­cover agents for hu­man traf­fick­ers.

Most of the traf­fick­ers were women who had been vic­tims them­selves, Shuhail said.

While many of the traf­ficked women can’t wait to get home and for­get about their or­deal af­ter be­ing res­cued, those from Mus­lim coun­tries that prac­tise hon­our killings can­not go back, par­tic­u­larly when they are preg­nant or have chil­dren con­ceived while in pros­ti­tu­tion.

They know they will be killed by their fam­i­lies.

Maitha Ghanim Al­mazroue, cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions manager of the shel­ters, said it was sad that af­ter go­ing through so much trauma some women could not go back home due to hon­our killings.

“A woman will say: ‘I can’t get back home be­cause they will kill me.’

“When she left she was sin­gle and came here look­ing for a job and now she is preg­nant or has a child. Not all peo­ple un­der­stand this prob­lem with hu­man traf­fick­ing,” she said.

Due to the fact that the UAE does not take asy­lum-seek­ers, in cases where vic­tims can’t go back home be­cause they fear be­ing killed, the shel­ters in­volve the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UNHCR will then find al­ter­na­tive coun­tries for them where they can live with their chil­dren and start a new life.

Both Shuhail and Al­mazroue said peo­ple needed to be aware of the dan­gers when promised jobs over­seas and should al­ways con­tact their em­bassies for help on ver­i­fy­ing those job of­fers. This is Sofia’s story

Two years ago Sofia was one of the many for­eign­ers who ar­rived in the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE) with the hope of get­ting a job and send­ing money home to help her fam­ily.

Her fa­ther stopped work­ing af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke, and her un­em­ployed mother was tak­ing care of her younger sib­lings.

It was dur­ing this try­ing time that a man ap­proached Sofia and asked her whether she would like to work abroad. Sofia jumped at the idea.

She had dropped out of school in Grade 5 and the only thing she did was tend to her fam­ily’s land.

Her fam­ily was sup­port­ive of her go­ing abroad and they sold their land for the equiv­a­lent of R15 000 for her to af­ford the flight and agency fees.

When they ar­rived in Abu Dhabi, the man from the agency took her to one of the houses in the city where she had to look af­ter nine chil­dren and clean the house. She never saw him again. For all the work she had to do, she was paid an equiv­a­lent of R1 600 a month.

But af­ter four months, the fam­ily stopped pay­ing her salary.

“They kept say­ing they would pay me but by the end of the sev­enth month they had not. I told them that I wanted to go back to my coun­try. They said it was fine but I should give them back the money they had paid me. I then de­cided to flee,” she said. With no pass­port or any doc­u­men­ta­tion on her as she left them at the house, Sofia roamed the streets of Abu Dhabi, cry­ing.

A taxi driver pass­ing by saw her. He was from the same coun­try as her.

He went to her and asked her why she was cry­ing.

A sob­bing Sofia told him and he promised to help her get a job in Dubai.

Sofia hopped into his taxi, happy and re­lieved that her coun­try­man was go­ing to help her.

When they ar­rived in Dubai, Sofia saw the taxi driver speak­ing to a man and a woman. Af­ter a while, he saw the cou­ple giv­ing the taxi driver money and she was or­dered out of the taxi.

Un­be­known to her, her coun­try­man had just sold her for an equiv­a­lent of R9 500 to the pair.

“I was taken to a house where there were many women in heavy make-up. I was also given make-up to put on and told to go and look for men. I un­der­stood what they meant by that but I re­fused. I told them that I was there to clean but they said to me: ‘There’s no other job.’

“I kept re­fus­ing but they locked me in­side the house and beat me up. One day the woman came again and asked me whether I still re­fused to pros­ti­tute my­self. I said yes.

“She called four other women who were living in the house and work­ing as pros­ti­tutes. She told them to hold my legs and spread them open. She then tor­tured me by putting chilli in my vagina,” Sofia said, cry­ing as she re­mem­bered the painful in­ci­dent.

“I kept say­ing I would not pros­ti­tute my­self and she put more chilli un­til I re­lented.”

Sofia said both the man and the woman used to drive her to clients and wait out­side the house for her to make sure that she did not es­cape. While the men she was hav­ing sex with paid for her ser­vices, Sofia said she never got any of that money. Des­per­ate to get out of pros­ti­tu­tion, she would beg the men for help, telling them that she was be­ing held against her will.

“They would say: ‘We are not re­spon­si­ble for you.’”

Sofia worked as a pros­ti­tute for seven months un­til she was res­cued when an­other woman forced into pros­ti­tu­tion man­aged to call the po­lice.

Po­lice ar­rived at the house they were all be­ing held at, kicked open the door and res­cued all the women who had been traf­ficked.

The fe­male traf­ficker man­aged to flee but the man was ar­rested and later pros­e­cuted. Sofia gave ev­i­dence in court. When The Star met with Sofia at the shel­ter, she had been there for a few months and was get­ting ready to go back home the fol­low­ing day.

She had re­ceived ex­ten­sive coun­selling while at the shel­ter and been taught skills.

De­spite what hap­pened, Sofia said she had put what hap­pened at the back of her mind and was ready to start afresh in her coun­try of birth.

“I won’t tell my fam­ily what hap­pened be­cause they will not be happy and will prob­a­bly treat men dif­fer­ently if they knew,” she said.

*Not her real name. Her coun­try of birth has also been with­held as per re­quest from the shel­ter.

—The Star

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