Harrowing tales of forced prostitution in UAE

Shathi Khatun (a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the victim), a resident of Khulna, Bangladesh, embarked on a journey to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with dreams of a better life. She spent BDT 150,000 from her savings, enticed by the promise of a lucrative salary as a domestic helper. However, her aspirations quickly turned into a harrowing nightmare, as she was forced into prostitution upon arrival.

Upon reaching Abu Dhabi, Shathi was taken to the Howard Johnson Hotel in Ajman city, operated by Bangladeshis Sayem and Payel alias Ranu. These individuals, with the assistance of Payel’s mother, trafficked Shathi into the UAE. The hotel became her prison, where she faced physical and verbal abuse for refusing to entertain customers. The threats of being handed over to the police loomed large, trapping her in a cycle of exploitation and fear.

Shathi’s ordeal in the UAE was a stark contrast to the promises made to her. Despite enduring months of exploitation, she did not receive any salary. Instead, she was forced to pay 4,000 dirhams for her Emirates ID, a cost that was supposed to be covered by her employer. “Having no other options, I was forced to do what they asked, but I did not receive any salary”, she recounted. Financially crippled, Shathi relied on friends to pay her loan installments.

After Eid-ul-Fitr, Shathi’s situation worsened when she refused to continue working as a prostitute and rented a separate room. Her employers retaliated by reporting her to the police, leading to her arrest on charges of engaging in anti-social activities. She was deported to Bangladesh after a 17-day jail term. Upon her return, Shathi sought justice, demanding punishment for those who trafficked her. She received legal services and shelter at BRAC’s Uttara center and is now preparing to file a case against Sayem and Payel.

Shathi revealed that at least three other girls were similarly deceived and forced into prostitution at the hotel. Her story is a grim reminder of the pervasive and insidious nature of human trafficking networks that prey on vulnerable individuals seeking better opportunities abroad.

Monira Akhter (another pseudonym used for victim protection) shared a similar fate. She went to the UAE with the promise of a job at a beauty parlor and a BDT 50,000 monthly salary. Desperate to support her bedridden father, she accepted the offer from local broker Aftaul Islam alias Parvez. Instead, she faced the same fate as Shathi, enduring physical torture by her Bangladeshi employer, Md Hannan, when she refused to comply with prostitution demands.

Morzina (another pseudonym used for victim protection), another victim, was rescued by a man named Mamun, who paid Tk 4 lakh to Hannan in exchange for her freedom. She returned to Bangladesh on May 21, 2023. Morzina identified two hotels, Baisakhi Club and Radisson Blu Hotel (Falguni), where 20-22 other girls were similarly trapped. With the assistance of BRAC, she filed a case against Parvez and Hannan at the Airport Police Station.

BRAC, a prominent NGO, is actively working to bring back two more victims still trapped in the UAE. One victim’s mother has filed a case with Bandar Police Station in Narayanganj. Shariful Hasan, associate director at BRAC Migration Program and BRAC Youth Platform, emphasized the complexity of the trafficking network. “A nexus on both sides is actively involved in sex trafficking. Our Bangladesh Embassy has not played a sufficient role in this regard, which is highly needed,” he said. Hasan highlighted that over 100 girls are confined to various UAE hotels, forced into prostitution or other illicit activities.

Despite repeated attempts, the Bangladesh embassy in the UAE could not be reached for comment. This lack of responsiveness from the embassy underscores the challenges faced by victims and their families in seeking justice and support. The stories of Shathi, Monira, and Morzina are not isolated incidents but part of a broader crisis affecting many Bangladeshi women who fall prey to trafficking schemes.

Human trafficking is a serious violation of human rights and dignity. The accounts of these women shed light on the urgent need for stronger protective measures, international cooperation, and effective legal frameworks to combat trafficking and support victims. NGOs like BRAC play a crucial role in providing legal assistance and shelter to survivors, but more comprehensive efforts are needed from government agencies and international bodies.

The harrowing experiences of these women underscore the importance of vigilance and support for those vulnerable to trafficking. It is imperative to raise awareness, strengthen legal actions against traffickers, and ensure that victims receive the justice and rehabilitation they deserve. As the stories of Shathi, Monira, and Morzina illustrate, the fight against human trafficking requires a concerted and sustained effort from all sectors of society.

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