The United Arab Emirates is a destination for men and women predominantly from South and Southeast Asia, trafficked for the purposes of labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Migrant workers make up over 90 per cent of the UAE’s private sector workforce and are recruited from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, and the Philippines. Though some travel willingly, they are subjected to conditions of modern slavery including withholding of passports, non-payment of wages, restrictions of movement and threats of physical and sexual abuse. Trafficking of domestic workers is facilitated by the fact that normal protections for workers under UAE labour laws do not apply to domestic workers, leaving them more vulnerable to abuse.
Farah S. travelled from Indonesia to Dubai through an agency and became engaged in domestic work. She was hired to work for an elderly couple but found that she had to serve around 20 people. Farah was required to work from 6am to 3am with no rest and no day off, her employer would shout at her and did not pay her for 3 months. When she asked to go back to the agency, she was told ‘I already bought you’. Farah was able to escape this abusive employer and went to live with other ‘runaway’ workers in a rented space, however this turned out to be a brothel.
The work wasn’t what I expected it to be. It was totally different. I would wake up to start cooking, then cleaning, washing clothes, and then cooking again. No rest, there was just no rest... Because she kept yelling, I cried and asked to go back to agency, but madam said “I already bought you”...
They thought of me as dirty. They didn’t think of me as human. I know because they never talked to me like I was a person and they had no manners at all.
[Later Farah went to live with other escaped domestic workers but it turned out to be a brothel]
The [brothel] owner said you have to pay me Dh500 [$136] for rent. They [the owners] pushed me into having sex with local people but they take the money. I got into a fight with the owner of the place, saying I didn’t like the work. The landlord said I had to pay. Otherwise I couldn’t leave, so I got the money from a friend and left... I thought better to sleep in the streets than to stay in such a place. I am still scared.
As told to researchers for Human Rights Watch