Monday, July 11, 2005

This is a long read, but worth it.

Prostitutes of the world unite in Dubai

Mon Jul 11, 2005 9:07 AM ET

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI (Reuters)
- At a downtown Dubai hotel crammed full of prostitutes, a Russian lady caked in make-up boasts about all the rich clients she's been hanging out with of late.

"Shoo, ya habibi!" ("what's up, baby!") she purrs in Arabic in an effort to impress a prospective English customer. But he isn't having any of it and turns his attention to some of the other nationalities on offer.

"I think he prefers black," Katerina rasps in disgust, as the man falls into conversation with a group of Ethiopians.

Business is booming in freewheeling Dubai where everyone, including ladies of the night, is flocking to make his or her fortune amidst another surge in Gulf Arab petrodollar wealth.

The semi-autonomous city-state in the United Arab Emirates -- the scene of round-the-clock work on brazenly ambitious urban development projects -- is attracting a global mix of blue and white collar labor and realized 16.7 percent growth in 2004.

But unusually for the conservative Gulf region, it also has a vibrant nightlife serving its population of 1.6 million, most of them foreigners, with easy-access sexual relations for all.

Police said last year the UAE was considering imposing visa restrictions on women tourists, especially Eastern Europeans, to curb prostitution, which is officially illegal here.

Sara and Mariam, two Muslim sisters from Azerbaijan, prowl the city's bars by night looking for customers. They rarely have a problem.

Tonight they've made the trek from the neighboring city of Sharjah, where rents are cheaper than Dubai, to a nightclub where the city's cosmopolitan mix of men know there is a global-wide choice of partners for the night.

"Money -- in Dubai there's lots of money. Everybody talks about it where I come from," says Sara, decked out in give-away knee-length leather boots and a tight white top.

On earnings of $6,000 a month, with $600 paid to her Turkish pimp, she says it's an easy game for the sisters, who watch out for each other in case there is trouble. They are doing well in a country with a per capita income of more than $20,000.

"Our day jobs pay almost nothing, but we can make a lot of money at night. It's very easy for us here," says Mariam, who along with her sister has a low-paid professional job by day.


But there is another side to prostitution in the Emirates -- women lured by pimps to the country on false pretences who find themselves forced into selling themselves by night.

The State Department last month singled out the UAE as one of the world's worst offenders in human trafficking, partly because of women it said are forced into prostitution.

Alia, a 25-year-old from Kazakhstan, says she is one of them. A recent arrival, she earns about $1,000 a month but pays most of it on rent and her Kazakh pimp who has kept her passport until Alia's payments hit the $8,000 figure.

"I was tricked to do this. I thought I would be working as a secretary or something. I was ill for the first one and a half months from the shock," she says stoically, surveyeing the large array of competition filling the hotel bar.

"I was amazed when I first came at the number of girls here," she adds, before leaving the scene alone. One police official acknowledged the large numbers of prostitutes but said many of the complaints could not be taken seriously. Professional "Natashas," or Russians, say they have been duped only after arguments with their pimps over money, he said.


According to local charity group Valley of Love, there has been a rising number of women forced into prostitution over the last year. The networks are often run by Indians, the largest ethnic group in the cosmopolitan mix of the United Arab Emirates.

"There have been more than 150 cases in the last six months, while previously it was very few. Now people have come to know these things are happening," said its head, C.P. Mathew.

"They were forced or nearly forced into prostitution. Most of them escaped, and most of them were Indian. They come as babysitters, maids and salesgirls. Some will do whatever they can to get out of the situation," he added.

One such woman was Amali Wijiyatunga, a 25-year-old Sri Lankan maid who jumped out of a second-storey window when she realized she was being forced into sex for money.

Police found her broken and bloody on a downtown pavement earlier this year and took her to a hospital. Amali says Indian acquaintances had promised to help her after she went through a series of unpleasant employers in other UAE cities.

But things turned from bad to worse when she was taken to a Dubai apartment on the promise of help in finding better work.

"They wanted me to do a blue movie and I didn't know what to do. This is my life, I can't do this. So I jumped out of the window," she said from her hospital bed where she convalesces.

(Additional reporting by Odai Sirri)

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