The government maintained efforts to identify and protect victims of all forms of trafficking, but unidentified victims among the African migrant population remained vulnerable to detention for immigration violations and therefore could not access full government services appropriate for victims of trafficking crimes. The government continued to circulate victim identification guidelines widely to relevant ministries, which regularly referred potential victims to the police to open investigations and ensure provision of protective services. Authorities continued to cooperate with NGOs on victim identification and referral. However, only one police officer in the country is authorized to interview and adjudicate applications for status as a victim of trafficking, leading to significant delays. Partly as a result of this understaffing, authorities identified only 47 trafficking victims and referred them to shelters in 2016, compared to 63 identified victims in 2015.
The government continued to provide a wide range of protective services for victims of all forms of trafficking. The government continued operating a 35-bed shelter for female trafficking victims and a 35-bed shelter for male trafficking victims; shelter residents were provided work permits and allowed to leave freely. These shelters offered one year of rehabilitation services, including job training, psycho-social support, medical treatment, language training, and legal assistance. The government also funded transitional apartments with 18 beds for trafficking victims, and a six-bed transitional apartment for male trafficking victims. In 2016, the female shelter assisted 29 victims, including 19 victims newly referred to the shelter. In 2016, the men’s shelter assisted 23 newly referred trafficking victims, including 12 male sex trafficking victims, and continued to assist 28 victims who entered the shelter in 2015. Twelve Eritrean men resided in the men’s transitional apartments during the reporting period. The Ministry of Social Affairs continued to operate a day center in Tel Aviv for male and female trafficking victims who chose not to reside at a shelter and to assist with victims’ transition from the shelter to the community. The day center provided psycho-social services and food aid, and social workers at the center were trained to identify individuals at risk of trafficking and refer them to shelter services. In 2016, the center provided services to 182 men and women, primarily Eritrean. The government also operated six centers for child sex trafficking victims and at-risk youth vulnerable to sex trafficking, which provided medical and rehabilitation services to children; the government assisted 450 minors at these centers in 2016, but reported that none of them were trafficking victims. Additionally, for identified trafficking victims who opted not to stay in shelters, the government provided an official letter that protected them from potential arrest for immigration violations and emergency contact numbers for shelters and relevant ministries. Identified trafficking victims living outside of shelters were also entitled to receive free emergency medical and psychiatric treatment at various government-funded health facilities; authorities continued to train medical care providers in identification and treatment of trafficking victims.
The government forfeiture fund established in 2006 to use property and money confiscated from traffickers to assist victims began disbursing funds, allocating 518,306 shekels ($134,940) in 2016. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) legal aid branch continued to provide free legal aid to trafficking victims. In 2016, the branch received 150 legal aid requests from victims, including 77 irregular migrants who may have been subjected to trafficking in the Sinai and 14 victims with disabilities. In 2016, the government issued victims 36 initial B1 visas—unrestricted work visas—and 38 extensions. By law, all victims residing in the shelters were provided B1 visas. The government coordinated with Canadian officials to organize a deposition via videoconference from an Israeli sex trafficking victim, although the victim ultimately decided not to testify. The government continued to encourage victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, but did not require their participation as a condition for receiving visas and protective assistance; victims could also opt to leave the country pending trial proceedings. The government allowed trafficking victims to work during the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. In total, the government provided medical care to 122 identified trafficking victims, including 11 children.
Although trafficking victims were not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, the government lacked a formal process to identify or proactively screen for victims among irregular migrants, who may have been exploited in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, detained for immigration violations. As a result, authorities regularly detained unidentified trafficking victims among the irregular African migrant population—including those who were abused in the Sinai—for immigration violations under the Law of Infiltration for one year without trial or conviction. Although the government characterized Holot as an open facility to house irregular migrants, an international organization and Holot residents claimed it is a de facto detention center due to its remote location in the desert and restrictions on movement. NGOs and the MOJ struggled to identify and gain the release of victims from Holot, and from the Saharonim and Giv’on prisons, and reported non-responsiveness on the part of the Population Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) to claims that a detainee is a victim of trafficking. The National Anti-Trafficking Unit (NATU) reported it conducted an inter-ministerial visit to Holot in February 2017 to improve identification of trafficking victims among detainees. Following the inspection, the government began to plan a training for all Israeli Prisons Service workers at Holot, Saharonim, and Giv’on facilities. The government released one trafficking victim from Holot and 13 from the Giv’on prison and referred them to protective services during the reporting period.