The government maintained overall strong protection efforts; however, victim identification policies and procedures prevented some trafficking victims, especially among the African migrant population, from receiving appropriate protection services. The government continued to circulate trafficking victim identification guidelines widely to relevant ministries. In 2018, the government reported receiving 105 victim referrals from NGOs and government sources, 30 of which remained pending at the end of the reporting period. Of the 105 referrals, the government granted official trafficking victim status to 59 individuals—including 41 women and 18 men—which was a decrease from the 73 victims identified in 2017. Among the identified victims were five male victims of forced labor—the first forced labor victims identified by the government in eight years. The Israeli National Police (INP) Anti-Trafficking Coordinating Unit—which consisted of two police officers—was the only government entity with the authority to grant individuals official trafficking victim status, which allowed a victim full access to protection services. Because only two INP officers were authorized to review victim applications throughout the country, the process significantly delayed victims’ access to much-needed protection services. Furthermore, NGOs reported that the government’s strict evidentiary standard for granting official victim status, which required eyewitness accounts, dates, and details from the victims, prevented at least 18 victims referred by NGOs from receiving status and, thus, appropriate care in 2018. Furthermore, some NGOs did not submit cases of trafficking among the Eritrean and Sudanese irregular migrant community due to this high standard and the risk that the application process would re-traumatize victims but not result in recognition. To address some of these concerns, the National Anti-Trafficking Unit (NATU), in coordination with the Ministry of Justice Legal Aid Administration (LAA) and NGOs, continued a fast-track procedure to more efficiently grant trafficking victim status.
The government continued to provide a wide range of protective services for victims of all forms of trafficking and to encourage victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, but did not require their participation in court cases as a condition for receiving visas and protective assistance; victims could also opt to leave the country pending trial proceedings. The government continued to operate a 35-bed shelter for female trafficking victims, a 35-bed shelter for male trafficking victims, and transitional apartments with 18 beds for female victims and six beds for male victims. Shelter residents were allowed to leave freely and, by law, all victims residing in the shelters were provided B1 visas—unrestricted work visas. These shelters offered one year of rehabilitation services, including job training, psycho-social support, medical treatment, language training, and legal assistance. The INP referred all 59 identified victims to shelters, but some declined to enter a shelter and instead utilized rehabilitative services at a government-run day center. In 2018, the women’s shelter assisted 52 victims, in addition to six children of victims; the men’s shelter assisted 45 victims; and the transitional apartments assisted 35 men and women, including 17 children. The majority of victims at the men’s shelter were Ethiopian and Eritrean. In response to an increase in the number of children of trafficking victims staying at shelters in 2018, the government increased child-specific rehabilitation services at the shelters. The Ministry of Social Affairs continued to operate a day center in Tel Aviv for male and female trafficking victims who were waiting for a space at a shelter, chose not to reside at a shelter, or had completed one year at a shelter. The day center provided psycho-social services and food aid, and social workers at the center were trained to identify individuals at risk of re-victimization in trafficking. In 2018, the center provided services to 236 male and female victims, all of whom were irregular African migrants primarily from Eritrea, as well as to 100 children of victims. Additionally, for identified trafficking victims who opted not to stay in shelters, the government continued to provide 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 previously not entitled to receive free medical coverage at various government-funded health facilities; however, in 2018 the Ministry of Health approved provision of limited medical treatments at one facility for these victims. The government also expanded gynecological and dental care for recognized trafficking victims in shelters. In 2018, the government provided medical care to 94 male and female trafficking victims.
The LAA continued to provide free legal aid to trafficking victims, and staff regularly visited shelters and detention facilities to provide consultations. In 2018, the branch received 109 legal aid requests to assist potential trafficking victims, including 52 irregular migrants who may have been subjected to trafficking in the Sinai. In 2018, the government issued 15 initial B1 visas and 36 visa extensions to sex and labor trafficking victims. It also issued 28 visas preventing the deportation of trafficking victims and two extensions of such visas in 2018. The government allowed trafficking victims to work during the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. The government forfeiture fund, which used property and money confiscated from traffickers to assist victims, accepted no new requests to fund assistance in 2018.
The government maintained guidelines discouraging the prosecution of trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit during their exploitation. However, the government did not systematically screen for trafficking among the irregular African migrant population and as a result authorities may have penalized unidentified and some identified victims for immigration violations. For example, the government continued to implement the “Deposit Law” (article 4 of the Prevention of Infiltration Law), which required employers to deposit a certain percentage of irregular migrants’ wages—including those of identified trafficking victims—into a fund that migrants could not access until they departed from the country; the government could also add penalties to the fund for each day a migrant remained in the country without a visa. NGOs reported that some employers withheld but never deposited wages into the fund. Furthermore, NGOs reported this law pushed migrants—particularly Eritrean women—into the black market, including prostitution, which exacerbated their vulnerability to trafficking. In March 2018, the government closed the Holot detention center and released all detained irregular migrants, but it did not forcibly deport them as it had previously declared. In addition, in April 2018, the government—per a Supreme Court order—released all Eritrean migrants from Saharonim prison, except those suspected of criminal offenses. The government did not proactively screen released detainees for trafficking indicators, but an NGO reported identifying at least five trafficking victims among those released. The government continued to incentivize irregular African migrants to voluntarily depart Israel to third countries in Africa, by providing migrants with a $3,500 stipend and a paid plane ticket to Uganda or Rwanda; however, NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived in Uganda or Rwanda did not receive residency or employment rights. An international organization reported that as of June 2018 “voluntary” transfers continued, but coercive measures to induce deportations were reduced, as those who refused to leave “voluntarily” could not be detained by Israeli authorities and had their permits renewed.