April 25, 2011
Shelter from horrors of slavery
By Jenifer Fenton, CNN Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates (CNN) – From the outside it looks no different from the luxury villas that dot this affluent emirate. Inside the modern building, though, are secrets: stories of depravity and horror that sound out of place in the 21st Century.
The Ewa’a shelter is an oasis for women and girls whose lives have been filled with pain and tears.
We meet a 15-year-old girl, who will not tell us directly who she is or about what she has experienced. The other six victims we are introduced to are older, but in the past some of the victims who’ve passed through the shelter have been as young as 11 or 12 years old. All of them, shelter officials say, have been trafficked and sexually abused. The officials recount how these women have been raped, locked up or forced into prostitution.
One woman tells us she came to the UAE because she was promised a job at a supermarket. When she arrived she was forced into what she says was “not good business.” She will not elaborate. Another, we are told by social workers, was locked up by her captors for a year.
Most of these women came to the UAE in search of a job. “The traffickers, what they do, is bring them with a good salary, with a visa basically. It is all a lie,” says Madawi al-Saud, Ewa’a’s media coordinator.
The shelter, whose location in Abu Dhabi is a secret, opened in 2009. That year (for which the most recent statistics are available), 38 women and children sought refuge.
Ewa’a is a non-governmental organization that receives funding from groups including charities set up the UAE royal family. It also runs two other shelters in Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah. Victims are usually referred by the police, embassies, hospitals or religious institutions. In addition to providing shelter and protection to the victims, the women receive medical and psychological care. Computer and language classes are offered. And legal assistance is also provided.
Most women spend two to six months at the shelter. When appropriate, the women are repatriated, according to the administrators. “Some of the victims, their parents either sold them or they just don’t want to go back home for certain reasons,” says al-Saud.
If a victim does not want to return to her home country, she is referred to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, which helps find another country where she can be resettled. The UAE does not grant refugee status.
The shelter says by helping victims at every stage of the police investigation, as well as in the courts, it helped convict 28 traffickers in 2009. But that, it says, is just one step in the fight against trafficking.
“My target, my aim in the future (is) to close all these shelters. That means my country (is) free from human trafficking,” says Sarah Shuhail, the executive director of Ewa’a Shelters.
“Human Trafficking, according to UAE Federal Law 51 of 2006, is the recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving persons by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes all forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour, enslavement, quasi-slavery practices, or detachment of organs.”