Removing curtains of Arab harems

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

The United Arab Emirates [UAE] is one of the biggest destinations for men and women, predominantly from South and Southeast Asia, trafficked for the purposes of labor and commercial-sexual exploitation. Migrant workers, who comprise more than 90 percent of the UAE’s private sector workforce, are recruited from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, China, and the Philippines. Women from some of these countries travel willingly to work as domestic servants or administrative staff, but some are subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor, including unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats, or physical or sexual abuse.

Isolation is a dominant feature of foreign female domestic worker work environment in the United Arab Emirates. Foreign female domestic workers are isolated physically, psychologically, socially, culturally and in all aspects of human existence. However, they differ in their level of isolation. Some foreign female domestic workers live in an abusive environment of isolation. Others are able to interact socially and break through some of the physical and psychological barriers they face.

Legally, once a foreign female domestic worker enters her employer’s house, she is totally under his/her control, since the employer is usually her visa sponsor. Even today, United Arab Emirates labour laws do not recognize domestics as part of the labour force.  The employer bears total responsibility for his/her domestic workers and has total control over them. However, during the first three months of the contract, both the employer and the employee have the right to contact the recruiting agency in order to report problems or to seek change in the status or employment of the foreign female domestic worker. Most recruiting agencies, however, do not encourage this practice, and often hide information from the foreign female domestic worker about their rights. The immigration regulations governing the status of domestic workers and the social practices towards foreign female domestic worker in the United Arab Emirates enslave them to their employers until the duration of their contract ends. Whether one is placed with a desirable or an undesirable employer is a matter of luck.

A significant portion of the foreign female workers in UAE as well as in other Arab countries are forced to offer sex to the employer, as well as many of them are even sold to the private brothels or sex rackets by the recruiting agents or pimps.

Alina, 22-year old Kyrgyz girl arrived in United Arab Emirates in 2008, on a visit visa following a promise of a pastry job for US$ 700 by a compatriot woman who arranged for her the visa, air ticket and accommodation. An unidentified woman received Alina at the airport. Later Alina came to know that, she had been sold to the gang in UAE for US$ 32,000. The woman, who came to airport to receive Alina told her that she had to pay back the costs in prostitution. Later, Alina was taken to a place, where she saw four Uzbek women and two Afghan men. These Afghan men were working as pimp to collect customers. On the first night, Alina was raped by both the Afghan men and she was told to please at least 10 customers every day. After nine months, Alina managed to escape from the captivity of the Afghan men and decided not to return home. She hired an apartment in Dubai with the help of one of her customers, a Sikh from India. Monthly rent of the apartment the apartment was US$ 1,500. Alina knew it was possibly on her part to earn at least 10-15 thousand dollars a month, even if she had to attend 3-4 customers a day. But, the man, who helped her in hiring the apartment, proposed to bring at least 5-6 girls from India and later to engage them into prostitution. Alina readily accepted the proposal. Fifteen days later, four young girls, age ranging 18-20 years arrived from India. Meanwhile, Alina managed to contact with two of the Uzbek girls, who were already working as prostitutes at the Afghan men’s private brothel. Those two Uzbek women also joined Alina’s apartment.

In two months, Alina started making US$ 50-60 thousand each month. Money turned her real mad. She even forgot to show kindness to the girls at her private brothel. In some cases, the Indian girls especially were forced to attend more than 10 men every day. The 3-bed-roomed apartment was converted into 6-bed brothel. Every day, Alina’s business hour began from 12 noon and continued till late night. Generally, Arab clients do not stay overnight or for longer period. They come and stay with the girl for 1-2 hours, for which, they pay US$ 100-150. Only on weekends, some of the Arab men request for taking the girls out. In that case, they are required to make a refundable deposit of US$ 15,000 with the brothel owner and pay US$ 500-700 for each night. Alina herself was also selling sex to customers every day, in addition to her running the brothel.

After running the brothel for almost two years, Alina and the Indian Sikh man decided to wrap-up the business as by that time, they already had made half a million dollar from the illegal sex trade in Dubai. Two of the Indian girls at Alina’s brothel were sent back home, while remaining four voluntarily decided to work in another private brothel, which was being operated by an Uzbek woman. The two girls, who went back to India with US$ 15-20 thousand each, which they earned during the two years, told Alina that, once they are returned to India, many of the village men will be rather eager to marry them, seeing the money they already have. It is commonly known in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan that, most of the females who go to Middle Eastern countries as domestic help, are either sexually abused by their employers, or end up in hidden brothels in Arab countries.

Story of Nargis:

Nargis, an Uzbek woman, who came to Dubai six years, back from Thailand, where, she had been sold to sex racket by her own boyfriend. Here is her story:

“It was 2003. I met my boyfriend at my girl-friend’s house. He had been dating me for two months already when he told me he was going to marry me. My boyfriend told me we could earn some money for our wedding if we went to work in Greece at his friend’s company. He said, we would stay in Greece for three months, and return home after earning enough of money. I was extremely happy. I could not believe all that was happening to me. He took my passport and all necessary papers and said that he would take care of visa and travel arrangements. As I was having highest trust and confidence on my boyfriend, I did not ask to see the tickets or documents. Few days later, we boarded on a flight, which was first going to Thailand and then to Greece, that what exactly my boyfriend said. But, surprisingly, the travel stopped at Bangkok and my boyfriend said we needed to spend a night in the city hotel to catch the flight for Greece the next day. I had no fear or confusion, as was sure, my boyfriend would never deceive me.

“He took me to a hotel and said that he was going to see his friend in Bangkok and would be back soon. Two hours later an Uzbek man came asked to accompany him to another hotel, where my boyfriend was waiting. I was confused and was not really realizing, what was happening. When I reached another hotel, the same man told me that, I was his property. I could not understand, I kept saying that it was a misunderstanding and that my boyfriend would be very upset seeing him saying such indecent things to me. But, to my utter surprise, the man told me that my boyfriend had already sold me to him and from now on he would have my documents and I had serve the clients this man would arrange for me. Onwards, everyday, I had to wait for the instruction from that man in my mobile phone, and had to rush to the hotel or apartment, as he instructed, to attend customers. This man was taking away 80 percent of my income, and I was only left with the remaining 20 percent and any extra tips that some clients used to pay.

“I had no option but to obey every instruction of that man, as my passport was already in his custody. This way, after spending almost seven months in Thailand, one day my luck clicked. Suddenly I encountered a low-ranking diplomat with Uzbek embassy in Thailand, in a nightclub. He was particularly showing interest in me, though; I already was with a Japanese client. At one point, the Uzbek embassy man passed his mobile number to me, skipping the eyes of the Japanese client.

“Next day, I called him. He wanted me to meet at the embassy. But, I told him that, sex rackets in Thailand, always keep closer eyes on Uzbek embassy, as hundreds of Uzbek girls are now working in Thailand as under-ground sex workers. Anyway, I managed to meet him for 10-15 minutes, on my return from a customer. Gradually, I developed a kind of sweet relations with that Uzbek diplomat. I knew he would never marry me, but still we were in love. I was meeting him on every chance I got in between my work.

“Couple of months later, when I sensed a kind of emotional relations built with the diplomat, one day I asked him, if he could help me in getting a passport, as mine was already with the sex-racket ‘boss’. The diplomat readily agreed to issue a new passport showing my old one as lost. I received the new passport in just 2 days and with the help of the same diplomat, got another temporary visa for Thailand for one week. This was my time to leave Thailand. I checked my savings and it was less than UD$ 22,000. I was not willing to return to Uzbekistan. But, finally went back and contacted a local travel agency for helping me in finding a join in Dubai. The man I approached knew that I was a prostitute. So, without hesitation, he offered me a job at one of Dubai’s nightclubs. Salary was not much, but the man said, I can earn a lot of tips by exposing my well-shaped body. I agreed!

“After paying air cost from Thailand to Uzbekistan and then cost of travel and some commission to the agent for reaching Dubai, I had just US$ 3,000 in hand. The owner of the nightclub provided me shelter in an apartment, where few more Egyptian, Indian and Russian girls were also staying. In nightclubs, more income comes from exposing body to the customers. But, I decided to work as the bar-tender, so that I could find a customer for after working hour earnings.

“On the very first night, I was lucky to spot a good customer. I earned US$ 100 as tips while serving him drinks. Later looking into his eyes, I understood, he was willing to take me out for the night. This was a rich Arab Sheikh, who readily accepted to pay me US$ 500 for the night. Still I did not know, the real cost for a Russian girl in Dubai, for the whole night is more than US$ 1,000. The Sheikh visibly was happy to get a Russian ‘virgin’ at half the cost.

“He was living in a palace like apartment. Well furnished in Western style. I found bottles of expensive wines and alcoholic beverages at his home. Was not wondered seeing such ‘haram’ items at the harem of Arab sheikh, as it was very natural that, most of these head-covered Arab sheikhs were doing all illicit, immoral and even religiously forbidden acts, simply by taking the advantage of being wealthy.

“Sheikh Hashim had his nick name Tony. He was running a medium type transport business in Dubai and was also investing is real estate. Tony, at the age of just 34, was able to make a few million dollars from the business, as he was a distant relative of the Emirs of UAE. On the first night, for some reason, Tony became emotionally weak to me, as he possibly was not expecting such warm behavior from a mere hooker. Most part of the night, we were chatting, singing, drinking and easting Arabian kebab. When I was leaving Tony’s apartment, he very decently handed me the money in envelop. This was a real shock to me, seeing such softness and decency in any Arab man. In my own knowledge [as I also attended few Arab customers in Thailand], Arabs are very rude by nature. But, Tony was an exception.

“Next night, as soon as I entered the nightclub, the owner whispered and asked me to wait for his exclusive guest, who was about to arrive. I wore the working dress and to my surprise, the exclusive guest of the owner was none by Tony. On his arrival, Tony said something in Arabic to the owner and we were guided to the second floor of the building, where I saw a nicely decorated room with a bed. This was an exclusive room for special guests. Generally, any ordinary Arab would never get any opportunity of spending time with girls in this room. There was karaoke and a TV which was connected to camera at the main floor, so that the customer could watch the cabaret by sitting in this room. My second night with Tony was spent in this room, and while leaving nearly in the morning, he gave me my payment.

“On the third night, the owner of the nightclub told me that Tony was sending his friend to me. Seeing Tony’s interest in me, the nightclub owner almost turned me into unreachable by other clients. At around 7:00 pm, a young Sheikh entered. He whispered with the nightclub owner and at the instruction of the owner, I accompanied the young sheikh to his car. When I boarded in the car, I realized, the man who guided me from the nightclub, was not the real sheikh but his employee. The real sheikh was sitting inside a tinted-glassed Mercedes Benz car. After moving for around 30 minutes, the car stopped in front of a villa. It was owned by the 26-year old Sheikh, who was Tony’s friend, and one of the members of the UAE’s emir family. At that age, he was running two large super stores in Dubai alongside the export-import trade.

“When we entered the villa, I saw few more Arab young men, already waiting for the ‘Russian Virgin’. It was a wild night, and most interesting, all of those young Arab sheikhs were bi-sexual. Inside closed doors, all of them were wearing boxing-shorts and sleeveless T-shirts. They were more looking like genuine Yankees, after removing their Arabian covers. Friend of Tony later told me that, major portion of Arab men are homosexuals at younger ages. Later, the rich boys get addicted to women, mostly with the female domestic help, who are employed from various countries. I was even shocked to know that, some of these domestic helps become pregnant by the employers or their ‘kids’. On that night, I had to comfort three of the friends of Tony and while leaving, they gave me US$ 1,000 for the service.

“Gradually, Tony introduced me to at least 20-25 young Sheikhs, all of whom are his friends or even class-mates. This was, I rather turned into a posh hooker, serving the rich Arab elites. Few months later, Tony asked me if I could bring in more young girls from my country. I readily nodded. And just in 4 days, I was sent back to Uzbekistan for bringing few more ‘Russian Virgins’ for the harem of the Arab sheikhs. When I returned to Dubai with the newly recruited girls, I realized that, Tony and his friends actually converted me into their pimp instead of having anymore physical attraction towards me. But I had nothing to complain, as Tony or his friends, never showed any disrespect to me, other than, seeking all types of sexual comfort, including anal.

“Just in course of two years, I turned into one of the biggest owners of private brothels in Dubai, where all of my customers were rich sheikhs and relatives of the emirs. Due to such influential connection, I was never touched by the law enforcing agencies. My brothel was located in a nice two-storied building, which had total 12 rooms. Each room was nicely decorated to fit the taste of the Arab sheikhs. It is important to mention that, Tony became a partner in this illicit trade with me, by holding fifty percent share. Every month, we were making net profit of roughly US$ 100-150 thousand. The business continued for around four years, till Tony was ready to marry a Qatari girl. Before marrying her, he expressed willingness of shutting down this business and suggested me to return to Uzbekistan with the money I owned and live a good life. When we closed the brothel, I had almost US$ 2 million in cash. This was not any small money for a prostitute like me to start a new life. But, I really was already struck into addiction of making more money from this illicit trade.

“After leaving Tony, I tried to connect with any of his friends with the hope of re-starting another brothel in Dubai city. But no one was showing any real seriousness about this. Rather few of them, spent nights with me, free of cost, just with the pretention of discussing the business. I also knew, with my almost collapsing figure, it won’t be possible for me to fit in Dubai’s sex trade, where young girls from many nations rather flood in. I also knew, in Uzbekistan, the best thing I could do is to marry a lazy and alcoholic man who would give me children in exchange of sitting on my earnings.

“I never wanted to be a sex-worker. But my destiny ended me here, where I now large amount of money, but a complete uncertain future. I really do not know, if I can ever become a family woman, instead of a hooker. I even do not know, if I can finally ignore the severe addiction of making money from this illicit profession.”