Israel is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Low-skilled workers from Thailand, China, Nepal, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and to a lesser extent, Romania, migrate voluntarily and legally to Israel for temporary contract labor in the construction, agriculture, caregiving, and fishing industries. Some subsequently face conditions of forced labor, including through such practices as the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, limited ability to change or otherwise choose one’s employer, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation. Many labor recruitment agencies in source countries or brokers in Israel require workers to pay exorbitant recruitment fees to secure jobs in Israel—ranging from the approximate equivalent of $8,000 to $30,000—a practice that contributes to forced labor once migrants are working in Israel.
Hundreds of victim testimonies collected in Israel document African migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers entering Israel irregularly from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Many of these vulnerable migrants were kidnapped along the Eritrea-Sudan border or within Sudan and subsequently subjected to abuses in Egypt’s northern Sinai before reaching Israel, some of which amounted to human trafficking. Although the numbers of migrants arriving irregularly in Israel has decreased significantly—from 17,000 in 2011 to 10,000 in 2012—following the construction of the border fence along the Israel-Egypt border and other deterrence measures, international organizations report that the abuses committed in Egypt against this vulnerable group of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers—some of whom are trafficking victims—continue to increase. Women from the former Soviet Union, China, and South America are subjected to forced prostitution in Israel, although the number of women affected continues to decline. Some women arrive on tourist visas for the purpose of working in prostitution for a short period of time before returning to their home country; some of these women may be subjected to conditions indicative of forced prostitution. Some Israeli women and girls may be subjected to sex trafficking in Israel.
The Government of Israel fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The Israeli government sustained strong law enforcement actions against sex and labor trafficking and strong overall prevention efforts during the year, although courts did not sentence convicted offenders to prison terms commensurate with the gravity of the offense. The government continued to refer victims to and fund two NGO-run shelters for trafficking victims; it opened additional facilities to accommodate an increasing number of identified trafficking victims. It continued to improve its efforts to identify trafficking victims proactively among vulnerable populations, including exploited foreign workers and migrants from the Sinai. Nonetheless, due to insufficient shelter capacity and trained personnel in detention facilities, identified trafficking victims frequently remained in detention awaiting shelter and other protection services. NGOs noted that conditions in detention centers were substandard, citing a lack of access to medical, legal, and social services.
Recommendations for Israel: Impose stricter sentences on convicted trafficking offenders; continue to increase the number of labor inspectors and interpreters in the agriculture, construction, and homecare sectors, ensuring that they are adequately trained in identifying trafficking cases; further increase enforcement of foreign worker labor rights; further evaluate employers and recruitment agencies for histories or indicators of abusive practices before referring migrant workers to them for new employment; continue to strengthen trafficking victim identification among migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers arriving from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula; continue to accord all trafficking victims protections, shelter, and medical and psychological treatment, and ensure those trafficking victims are not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as immigration violations, including by being detained; increase the number of social workers and interpreters in detention centers and improve psychological services provided to victims in trafficking shelters and detention facilities; increase training for regional district police units in victim identification, victim sensitivity, and enforcement of labor and sex trafficking laws; and increase investigations of forced prostitution of Israeli nationals.
The Government of Israel sustained strong law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking during the reporting period, though sentences given to convicted sex traffickers remained low. It also continued to make progress against labor trafficking. The government prohibits all forms of human trafficking through its Anti-Trafficking Law of 2006, which prescribes penalties of up to 16 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of an adult, up to 20 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of a child, up to 16 years’ imprisonment for slavery, and up to seven years’ imprisonment for forced labor. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, the government conducted at least 28 investigations of sex trafficking and seven investigations of forced labor. Israel reported prosecuting nine sex trafficking defendants and 10 forced labor defendants; it convicted 17 sex traffickers and four forced labor offenders, some of whom were charged under the trafficking statute, but convicted under related statutes. Despite this, trafficking offenders were given sentences that were not sufficiently serious to deter the crime; sentences ranged from community service or imprisonment of eight months’ to three years’ imprisonment. In September 2012, Israeli authorities cooperated with INTERPOL to investigate an Israeli national suspected of trafficking two Ukrainian women for forced prostitution. A local NGO observed that the majority of women in prostitution were Israeli citizens and some were restricted from leaving the brothels. In February 2013, the government indicted an Israeli who allegedly locked an Israeli woman in an apartment and forced her to engage in prostitution.
Since the specialized anti-trafficking unit was disbanded in July 2011, regional districts have been provided specialized training in human trafficking and are responsible for enforcing trafficking crimes and handling trafficking investigations, overseen by an Israel National Police headquarters component. NGOs reported that as a result of the disbanding, some police units handling trafficking cases lacked experience, interpreters, familiarity with migrant workers’ communities, and sensitivity. Through the government’s anti-trafficking unit, the government continued to provide numerous anti-trafficking trainings, workshops, and seminars for law enforcement, prison, immigration, and judicial officials, labor inspectors, social workers, and NGOs. The government did not report efforts to investigate or prosecute public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses.
The Government of Israel sustained its protection of trafficking victims over the reporting period, including its efforts to employ effective procedures to identify and protect some trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including migrant workers and vulnerable migrants from the Sinai. Despite these procedures, some unidentified victims may have been penalized for unlawful acts, such as immigration violations, committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. Israeli law enforcement authorities employed systematic procedures to identify foreign sex trafficking victims among high-risk persons. The police continued a pilot program with an NGO to help identify sex trafficking victims during police raids of brothels and refer them to NGO protection services. During the reporting period, police did not identify any children in prostitution, though there continued to be reports of Israeli nationals in prostitution, including prostitution of underage girls in Tel Aviv. Some victims who were subjected to trafficking in the Sinai and later entered Israel remained in detention for several months before being transferred to trafficking shelters. The Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor increased the use of interpreters accompanying labor inspectors in the field. However, NGOs remained concerned about a lack of Thai interpreters during inspections in the agriculture sector, which left inspectors unable to communicate with and receive complaints from the predominantly Thai migrant workers in this sector. The government continued to provide robust victim identification training and workshops to judges, social workers, law enforcement and prison officials, labor inspectors, and NGOs.
The government continued to fund the 35-bed Maagan shelter for primarily foreign female trafficking victims and the 35-bed Atlas shelter for foreign male trafficking victims, both of which allowed shelter residents to leave freely. These shelters offered job training, psychosocial support, medical treatment, language training, legal assistance, and other rehabilitative services; however, NGOs reported that the shelters lacked adequate psychological care. During 2012, the government opened transitional apartments to house 18 additional trafficking victims, as needed. Observers claimed, however, that the shelters and apartments were insufficient to treat the scale of trafficking victims not accorded official victim status in Israel, particularly those victims among migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers arriving from the Sinai. Law enforcement and judicial officials referred 33 women to the Maagan shelter and 53 men to the Atlas shelter in 2012, which was a significant increase compared to referrals in 2011. In 2012, the shelters housed 58 trafficked women, 53 men, and nine children. Two minors who were among victims of trafficking that arrived from the Sinai were referred to the shelters this year, and the children of some adult trafficking victims were housed in the shelter with their parents. The shelter staff maintained contact with trafficking victims after they had left the shelter to assist victims with reintegration into Israeli society, and to ensure future work conditions were not exploitative. For example, the men’s shelter assisted 75 forced labor victims with short-term housing and assistance with work visas and legal aid. The legal aid branch of the Ministry of Justice continued to provide free legal aid to trafficking victims and included a special representative with expertise in handling human trafficking cases. In 2012, the branch granted legal aid to 101 victims of trafficking, including victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, as well as to 186 victims who entered from the Sinai and may have experienced conditions of forced labor and sex trafficking in Egypt. The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking but did not require their participation as a condition for receiving assistance. Though government policy allowed trafficking victims to work during the period of investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, in practice, victims experienced long delays in receiving work visas from the Ministry of Interior (MOI). NGOs reported that, in particular, some identified Eritrean trafficking victims who entered Israel from the Sinai did not receive work authorization paperwork for several months. In 2012, the government issued 44 and extended 301 temporary B1 visas to trafficking victims that allowed victims to work legally and without restriction; these were not contingent on their participation in investigations or prosecutions. Identified victims of trafficking who suffered abuses in Egypt were not, however, accorded B1 visas in Israel, but were instead provided work authorization paperwork from the MOI.
Though the numbers of foreign migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers arriving in Israel from Egypt significantly decreased by the end of the reporting period, the Israeli government continued to grapple with policies to address the group’s vulnerabilities, some of whom were subjected to trafficking prior to their entry into Israel. The amended Prevention of Infiltration Law, which went into effect in June 2012, defines all irregular border crossers as “infiltrators” and permits authorities to detain illegal migrants, including asylum seekers and their children, indefinitely; trafficking victims were among those detained—sometimes for several months—until being released to a shelter or guardian. Notwithstanding this detention, the Israeli government improved its system of identifying and providing medical treatment for trafficking victims who were severely abused prior to arriving in Israel. The government adopted new identification procedures in 2012 that required all prison staff in detention facilities to notify a social worker of suspected trafficking victims in detention, who were in turn required to notify the police and legal aid; these procedures significantly increased the number of victims identified in detention facilities to 156. Nonetheless, there continued to be an inadequate number of interpreters and psychological services in detention facilities for victims who experienced abuse and trafficking in Egypt. The government also identified 17 male and 21 female child trafficking victims and after placing them in a detention facility, transferred them to a government-run boarding school. Advocates, however, expressed concern that the child victims were released to boarding schools or guardians without proper rehabilitative care. The government continued to indicate it did not have the capacity to provide assistance to the large numbers of trafficking victims among the migrants arriving from Egypt. As a result, 35 female and 11 male trafficking victims remained in detention awaiting space in the government-funded trafficking shelters at the end of the reporting period. While Israeli authorities reported that Israel refrained from the practice of “hot returns” of migrants and asylum seekers back to Egypt, several NGOs reported that the practice resumed during the reporting period. NGOs reported that the Israeli military prevented some illegal migrants, including possible asylum seekers, from arriving in Israel from the Sinai without determining whether they were victims of trafficking. Until the Prevention of Infiltration Law went into effect in June, Eritrean and Sudanese migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, some of whom may have been victims of trafficking in the Sinai, received a “conditional release” visa that did not allow them to work legally in Israel. Therefore, NGOs reported that many of these migrants informally found work in the agriculture sector under harsh conditions; some of them may have experienced conditions indicative of forced labor.
The Israeli government sustained progress in preventing human trafficking over the reporting period. The anti-trafficking unit within the Ministry of Justice continued to hold meetings with government ministries, NGOs, and the Knesset, as well as conduct trainings, research trafficking trends, and coordinate Israel’s response to the vulnerable group of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers arriving from the Sinai. The unit’s coordinator, however, left the position in October 2012, and it remained unfilled at the end of the reporting period. In December 2012, the government held its fifth annual ceremony to present awards to individuals or organizations that had made a significant contribution against human trafficking. The Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women held frequent public meetings during the reporting period. The Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office raised awareness of sex trafficking among students; the Ministry of Education incorporated awareness of sex and labor trafficking into school curricula, which reached 75,000 teachers and 100,000 students. The government also continued to implement anti-trafficking awareness campaigns through media outlets. As a continuation of the government’s efforts from the previous reporting period, the country’s anti-trafficking unit published an annual summary of the Israeli government’s anti-trafficking efforts.
The government investigated labor violations that created vulnerabilities for human trafficking, including inflated brokerage fees and violations of foreign caregivers’ rights, though concerns remained over new legal amendments that restrict foreign caregivers’ abilities to change employment. The MOI also added 75 new labor inspectors trained in human trafficking, and the government enacted labor laws that enabled the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor to impose administrative sanctions, including financial penalties, on employment violators; the government opened 150 investigations under this law during the year. In 2012, a set of amendments to the Foreign Workers Law entered into force, which prohibited illegal employment of foreign workers and allows the MOI to close a business or limit the use of the premises on which violations were committed. Under these amendments, the MOI investigated and fined 1,700 employers of foreign workers and cancelled numerous permits for employers and a manpower company to employ foreign workers. The government continued to operate a 24-hour hotline for foreign workers to lodge complaints; in 2012, the hotline referred 516 complaints from foreign workers to law enforcement. In an effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, police opened 40 investigations for the offense of publishing prostitution services, and conducted investigations which led to the closing of some premises used for prostitution.