Trafficking may be more widespread than people think

Trafficking appears to occur in two ways; some women are kidnapped from regular employment or sold by their employers to avoid paying repatriation costs while others are duped into leaving their homes and families to take up work in the UAE or elsewhere in the Middle East only to find upon arrival that the work expected of them is far different from that promised them before departing their homes.

The problem seems most acute among those who come to work on the basis of visitor visas. These workers fly under the radar of the home authorities and the embassy labour offices. They leave themselves open to exploitation since upon arrival they are then processed for “employment visas” which provides unscrupulous agencies with an opportunity to take the passports and then demand high fees to “process” the visa conversion. This “conversion fee” can be as high as AED17,000 (USD 4,600 approx.) and of course, very few workers have the means to pay.  With no passport, they are then in a precarious position and at the mercy of the agencies who are supposedly helping them. Sadly, in many situations it is their own fellow citizens who exploit them. Through this means, many are forced into prostitution, either working in one of the many hotel bars where alcohol is allowed and where foreign expatriates and visitors congregate or, for the less fortunate, confined to work in decrepit brothels within sight of the big city but a world apart from it.

Kish Island off the coast of Iran is where many such workers go who remain on visitor visas and have to make a regular “visa run” in order to renew their entry documents.  Kish Island, with an area of less than 100 square kilometers, is a duty free port and resort area. Politically, it is part of the Hermozgan Province of Iran. An island of only 21,000 residents, it nevertheless attracts around five million visitors a year chiefly because no visa is needed to visit the island and travel permits can be issued after arrival. This explains its attraction for those expatriates needing to undertake visa runs.

The island boasts of many fine resorts and coral reefs for those wishing to explore them but many others go there under much more basic conditions. Agencies advise their clients to go and wait on the island while a new visa is processed. Once done, It is then sent by fax enabling the worker to return to the UAE and with original visa papers waiting at the arrival airport for collection prior to passing immigration. This process should take only a few days to complete but, of course, requires additional cash which only makes workers more indebted to their agencies.

In some instances, agencies take the cash which workers borrow from their friends and then, once the worker has left the country, the agency “forgets” to process the papers and the worker is stranded. Numbers are sketchy but there is sufficient anecdotal evidence around to suggest that the problem is a serious one. With diseases such as tuberculosis rife among the squalid conditions under which many such workers have to live on the island, life expectancy is significantly reduced and some workers never return.

So far I have published two of my Stories from the Gate on this website and will post more of them in due course. They are tales worth the telling. You can read them here:

http://workingwithwords.com.au/excerpts/stories-from-the-gate-ii/

http://workingwithwords.com.au/excerpts/1380-2/

 

Mike Clancy