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
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
“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.
JUMPED FROM WINDOW
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
“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.
“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)