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.
Sandra S. travelled from the Philippines to Abu Dhabi through an agency that promised her domestic work with better conditions. However, the contract she signed that contained positive terms convincing her to leave her home, was substituted with the UAE standard contract offering less pay and few rights and protections. Forbidden from speaking to any other Filipinos Sandra S. was forced to sleep on a piece of cardboard. When she ran away and returned to the agency she was punished and deprived of food.
No one explained the terms of the contract. I didn’t even read the contract and they made me sign it.
It was a flat so I slept in the stock room with the boxes around me on the floor. I got cardboard to sleep on. I woke up one time and jumped because there was a rat climbing on my leg.
[Later Sandra fled to the agent that had placed her with her employer.}
They [the agents] shouted at me and then put me on punishment and didn’t give me food. For one day and one night they didn’t feed us and we were all crying. I was with ten other domestic workers. When they did give us food it was raw like the rice, bread and the fish were not cooked properly. I was in the agency like this for six days.
As told to researchers for Human Rights Watch