ME human trafficking figures hit 600,000
Manama, June 11, 2013
Around 600,000 men, women and children are trafficked in the region annually - most of them in the Gulf, said a United Nations expert.
The massive number of expatriates seeking work in the region made foreign jobseekers vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers, Dr Mohamed Mattar was quoted as saying on the sidelines of a workshop in Bahrain on National Capacities in Controlling Trafficking in Persons, Crimes and Criminal Investigations by the Gulf Daily News.
"The problem is more in the GCC countries because of the millions of people who come to this part of the world looking for work," said Dr Mattar, who is executive director of The Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) based in Washington, DC.
He said victims of trafficking included those whose travel documents were withheld - restricting their movements and preventing them from changing jobs.
"They are also denied the right to file a lawsuit and seek compensation," he said.
The common practice of employers withholding foreign workers' passports was last week condemned by Bahrain's Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs Under-Secretary Shaikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.
Other examples of human trafficking in Bahrain include women being promised legitimate jobs, only to be forced into prostitution when they get here.
Some women are hired for skilled positions and then forced to work as housemaids, while men are often lured to Bahrain with promises of well-paid positions and then forced to work as labourers on construction sites.
There are also examples of people paying overseas agencies to get a job, only to discover on arrival that they have been granted a short-term visit visa and finding themselves hunting for low-paid work as illegal residents.
However, Dr Mattar said the country had taken steps to combat human trafficking.
"Bahrain has taken concrete steps to change all this and its effects are already being seen," he said.
The two-day workshop, which concludes today, is being held at the InterContinental Regency Bahrain and is organised by the Foreign Ministry in co-operation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
It was opened by Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary Abdullatif Abdulla, who is also chairman of the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking.
Also present were Arab League adviser on combating human trafficking Adel Ibrahim Majid and IOM regional migrant assistance specialist Sara Craggs.
Abdulla said Bahrain was taking steps to raise awareness and combat trafficking. "We are already a leader in this field and have clamped down heavily on human rights abuses," he said.
He added representatives of all Bahrain ministries, as well as non-governmental organisations, were attending the workshop to share experiences and learn from the experts.
In addition to employers withholding passports, he revealed that another problem now being encountered was companies confiscating the CPR cards of their staff.
"Holding passports and CPR cards is unlawful and we will be co-ordinating with the Interior Ministry to bring those responsible to book," he said.
Meanwhile, he urged anyone who believed they were a victim of trafficking to contact the police or their embassy.
"We have very few people who are trafficked compared with some years ago and with other nations," he said. "We however encourage people to report if they feel they are victims or are being exploited."
He added Bahrain's plan to combat human trafficking focused on building capabilities at relevant authorities by increasing participation in regional and international workshops, pointing to the fact that foreign workers were now able to transfer between employers as a sign of progress.
"There have been several challenges and more will come but Bahrain is certainly on the right track," said Craggs.
She added the holding of the workshop was testament to the commitment of Bahrain to combating human trafficking.
Among those present was representative of the National Anglican Church in Bahrain and Bahrain Society for Tolerance and Religious Co-existence vice-chairman Hani Aziz, who highlighted the role of places of worship in spreading awareness of human trafficking. – TradeArabia News Service
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