A safe haven for victims

Human trafficking29 May 2009 -  Earlier this week, Ms. Sara Shohail, Executive Director of the Abu Dhabi Shelter for Women and Children and Ms. Maitha Ghanim F. Al-Mazrui, the shelter's Coordination Officer followed an invitation by UN.GIFT to Vienna to discuss issues of human trafficking and victim protection with experts from UNODC, IOM and Civil Society Organizations.

During their two day visit, Ms. Shohail and Ms. Al-Mazrui participated in a series of round table discussions about the identification of victims of human trafficking, referral mechanisms, interviewing techniques and the psychological consequences of trafficking in persons. Particular emphasis was put on the need for enhanced international cooperation between service providers and law enforcement officers of countries of origin and destination to ensure the victims' safety after they returned to their home countries.

Victim support and safety are crucial in operating a shelter. "For example, for the safety of the survivors, we don't have a sign board outside. Not even those in the neighbourhood know that this is a shelter, " said Ms. Shohail. "This provides security so that the criminals involved in human trafficking do not try to reach these women who have escaped from them, " she added.

In order to exchange experiences with other shelter managers, UN.GIFT organized a visit to three Viennese institutions run by different organizations. The meeting with LEFOE, an Austrian NGO working with female victims of human trafficking was particularly fruitful, as specific, difficult situations arising in a shelter and possible ways out were discussed. At Drehscheibe, a City of Vienna crisis center for children, the discussion evolved around the voluntary return of child victims of trafficking and the importance of international cooperation. The specific needs of women in crisis situations were made visible through a guided visit through Haus Miriam, a shelter for women operated by Caritas.

Ms. Shohail and Ms. Al-Mazrui appreciated the meetings with other practitioners, especially because it became evident once again, that the challanges faced by the shelter staff in Vienna are very similar to the ones faced in Abu Dhabi. 

The Ewa'a Shelter in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was established in 2008 and became operational in January 2009. It provides temporary shelter for up to 30 women and children victims of human trafficking and offers psychological, medical, and legal assistance as well as support in rehabilitation.

When asked what the next step in their shelter journey would be, the answer was clear: "We plan to open other shelters, wherever there is a need," said Sara. "We are willing to open more shelters in other emirates around the country, " said Maitha. "We want ours to be a model shelter," she added.

Other projects the two women are working on include a website and a multilingual hotline, through which women can contact the shelter.

For more information, listen to the audio interview.