Thursday, February 17, 2005

Desert Nights

Hetq has been investigating the problem of trafficking in Armenian women for more than a year now, trying to find out how these women get into the United Arab Emirates, what forces them to take this path and engage in prostitution, who runs this business in Armenia and the UAE and why they are not punished, and what steps law enforcement agencies in Armenia and the United Arab Emirates have taken to stop human trafficking. Our investigative team will provide some answers to these questions in a series of articles and in a video film entitled Desert Nights. The first article appears below.

A Pakistani cab driver answered our questions. Cab drivers are a great source of information. They know a lot. They know where the women stand. They even know their nationality. They can tell you where to find Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or Armenian women or girls less than 18 years old.

They can recommend the best nightclubs. Cab drivers in Dubai —mainly Pakistanis and Indians—can tell you about the sheikh and his family, their palaces and businesses.

We were in a residential district in Dubai where we had been told the cheapest Armenian prostitutes could be found. There were Chinese, Russian, Uzbek, and Armenian women waiting for clients in the doorways of the buildings. Men were making their choices, haggling, and when an agreement was reached, going upstairs into apartment-brothels. Of course, the authorities and the police in Dubai know that there are hundreds of these apartments here.

The clientele of these inexpensive prostitutes are Pakistanis, Iranians, Indians, and Arabs from neighboring countries who work in Dubai . They spend only five, ten, or fifteen minutes in the rooms, and pay $10, $15, or $20 maximum. A prostitute can have dozens of clients each day.

Most of the women working here are unkempt, semi-literate, crude.

We got out of the cab and, pretending to be tourists, struck up a conversation with three of them.

“Are you Armenian?” we asked.
“What are you doing here?”
“What should we be doing? We're wandering around like stray dogs.”
We asked them to go upstairs to talk. They didn't know it, but we were filming everything for our documentary. We will not show their faces or print their pictures since many of them are married and have children. Most of their families are unaware that they are working as prostitutes in Dubai.

Only one of the six women in the apartment was from Yerevan . The others were from small towns and villages in Armenia.

We introduced ourselves as Armenians from the United States visiting Dubai . We said two of us were originally from Armenia , and the third was Armenian-American by birth.

The street women cannot abandon their places on the street for long. Their “boss”, as one of them put it, drives by in a cab five or six times a day to see whether they are in their spots or not. A woman named Anush supervises the six Armenian women in this apartment.

“How many clients do you have a day?” we asked.
“Who knows?” Anush said.
“Isn't it dangerous?”
“No, we know the men who come here.”
“Are there many women from Armenia in Dubai?”
“All of Armenia is here,” Nara from Jermuk replied.

After a while we showed them a picture of a 17-year-old girl, saying that she was a friend of ours and we were looking for her.

Nara told us, “The deal is, no one can force you. If you want to, you do this work. If you don't, you go to the police station and tell them. I've been in Dubai for six years now. If you think we came here because of financial problems, you're wrong.”

“Then why did you come?” we asked.

“I had to come, so I came. Now I have everything – money, gold, apartments in Dubai and Yerevan. No one can say anything to me.”

Then the women told us how we could find our friend from the picture, which discotheques and nightclubs we should look for her in.

Four of the women said they had come to Dubai voluntarily. The other two had been tricked into coming. These two didn't say a word throughout our entire conversation. And as we spoke, prostitutes and their clients were coming and going in other rooms of the apartment. Our presence didn't disturb them at all.

As we were saying goodbye, the to silent women told us how they had been deceived into coming to Dubai . “I was told that I was going to Bulgaria to work in a flower shop,” one of them, who was from Masis, told us. “Then they brought me here from Moscow . I'm married and I have two children. I've been here for a year now and my husband thinks I'm in Bulgaria . I send money home. Sometimes I talk to my kids on the phone. What can I do? I don't know what's going to happen in the end.”

Outside, they told us to get into a cab quickly, or the police might arrest them.

We drove off for a meeting with Marietta , the most famous madam in Dubai today.

Edik Baghdasaryan, Ara Manoogian
Dubai, July 2004

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