Born in Armenia, Iliona was trafficked to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where an estimated 10,000 women from sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, South and East Asia, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco are victims of sex trafficking. In addition, victims of child camel jockey trafficking still remain in the UAE: thousands of young boys have been trafficked from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Mauritania to work as camel jockeys, and though the UAE enacted a law banning the practice in July 2005, questions persist as to the effectiveness of the ban.
My friend told me that we could earn money by doing trade in Dubai. I sold my house to get money for the trip and to buy some stuff from Dubai to sell in Armenia. I had done the same before, in Turkey. This time I was cheated. We traveled with my friend. Her friend from Dubai sent us an invitation. When we came to Dubai we were immediately taken to a hotel. Our friend who was married to a local Arab man told us that they had sent us the invitation not for shopping but for doing sex work. She also said that we had to serve as many men as they would propose and pay her a daily rate. I had been involved in sex work for many years; nevertheless I could not stand the pressure. They were forcing us to have sex with at least 40 men a day, sometimes even more. You had no right to reject the customer, even when he did not want to use condoms. Of course I understood that I was at risk to contract a disease, but I had no right to turn the client down. They were beating us awfully and we could not refuse a client even if we were feeling terribly sick.
If someone spent more on food than we were supposed to (food is expensive in Dubai and in many cases we were hungry and thirsty), the Arab partner of our pimp would beat us with a belt. It was so painful. There were many cases when the clients were also violent. You were between two extremes: the violent client and the more violent pimp, who would terribly beat you or refuse to pay out if you disobeyed. The younger ones were crying all the time; they could not get used to all they were forced to do. They were like senseless objects after almost 24 hours of work.
There are many Armenian women in Dubai, including my friends from Echmiadzin and Hrazdan. They are still coming. I am sorry for the young girls; they cannot stand this. They get sick quickly and are sent back home. It depends on the pimp, there are ones that never pay even one dollar to children, but I have heard of those also who gave $1000 when a child was returning home.
As I did not have any documents and knew very well how corrupt the police was all over the world and their attitude to prostitutes, I did not even think of running away. I had no money, and was collecting the few dollars she gave to me to bring home for my son. He needs money to go to college. I want him to be an educated person and hold a high position in society. I got sick in Dubai and she had to send me back. Now I am here and do not even have a cent to buy bread. We live here from hand to mouth. I’ll try to get some money to do trade in Turkey.
Narrative as told to the International Organization for Migration, 2000, in Yerevan, Albania.