Dubai police have announced a crackdown on a large prostitution ring, which human rights activists welcomed on Wednesday as a long-awaited move against the human trafficking rampant in this wealthy Gulf city.
Police said that they had conducted a series of simultaneous raids Saturday on suspected brothels, landing 247 suspects in jail in the emirate's biggest anti-prostitution sweep to date.
"The police have been working on this one for a long time," Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim told The Associated Press, describing a year of surveillance on 22 villas licensed as massage parlors in several neighborhoods across this bustling regional business hub.
In a press conference Tuesday, Tamim said that the Dubai government has "declared war on human trafficking."
"It's about time we can say the word 'trafficking' out loud," said Sharla Musabih, a human-rights activist who runs a local shelter for abused and trafficked women. "There's still a lot to be learned, but after seven years of trying to convince the police that these (women) are victims of trafficking, my heart sang when I heard the police chief say that," she said.
Musabih added she has dealt with 400 victims of trafficking over the last six months.
The raids picked up 170 suspected prostitutes, 12 men believed to be their pimps and 65 alleged customers, all of whom have since been referred to the prosecutor-general to be charged, Tamim said.
Prostitution is illegal in the Emirates, a federation of seven semiautonomous states, but widespread in Dubai and particularly obvious in certain luxury hotels.
"Human trafficking is a big problem here and all over the world," said Khalid Ahmed Omer, a legal adviser to Dubai police, explaining that "foreign gangs" run prostitution rings in Dubai and "bring girls with them from their countries."
In its annual "Trafficking in Persons Report," the State Department listed the Emirates as one of the places most plagued by "involuntary servitude and commercial sexual exploitation."
"There are women who are brought here by force and we try to do everything to protect them," Omer said.
Women who are found to have been forced into prostitution will most likely be deported to their countries of origin, Omer said, adding that those who brought them will be held accountable.
Human trafficking is punishable with life imprisonment or, if the victim is less than 15 years of age, the death penalty.
"Trafficking is not just about prostitution," Musabih. She said that recruiters often promise women from poor countries a better life in the Gulf.
"They sell everything to pay their way here and to work, only to be dumped in a strange city where they face abuse and have nowhere to go," Musabih said.
Women who are forced into sex work were usually promised work as domestics, she said.
The Emirates and other Gulf countries have been repeatedly criticized by Human Rights Organizations for not doing enough to stop global human traffickers, who move 800,000 people across international borders each year.
Source: AP News