The government identified more victims and maintained overall strong protection efforts. In 2019, the government reported receiving 96 victim referrals from NGOs and government sources, compared with 105 referrals in 2018. Of the 96 referrals, the government granted official trafficking victim status to 73 individuals—including 58 women and 15 men—an increase from the 59 victims identified in 2018. Of the 73 identified victims, 38 were victims of sex trafficking and 34 were victims of forced labor. Unlike in previous years, the vast majority of victims identified experienced trafficking within Israel, while only three victims were exploited in the Sinai prior to arriving in Israel. The government continued to circulate trafficking victim identification guidelines widely to relevant ministries. However, the government reported that the PTC—which consisted of two police officers for the majority of the reporting period—was the only government entity with the authority to grant individuals official trafficking victim status, allowing a victim full access to protection services. Because only two PTC officers were authorized to review victim applications throughout the country, the process significantly delayed victims’ access to much-needed protection services. Furthermore, as of January 2020, one of the two officers departed the position, leaving only one officer in the entire country authorized to identify trafficking victims. 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 some victims referred by NGOs from receiving status and, thus, appropriate care in 2019. 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. NGOs also reported multiple cases in which the government significantly delayed the identification of Eritrean trafficking victims; for example, the government granted victim status to two Eritrean migrants eight and nine years after the NGO referred them to the PTC. Nevertheless, throughout the reporting period, the National Anti-Trafficking Unit (NATU), in coordination with the Ministry of Justice Legal Aid Administration (LAA) and NGOs, continued to implement 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. 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. The government closed a transitional apartment with six beds for male victims during the reporting period, as it began renovations to turn the space into a family apartment for women with children. Shelter residents could leave freely and, by law, the government provided all victims residing in the shelters with 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. In 2019, the government reported buying new furniture and redesigning shelter spaces to improve living conditions for residents and employing a nutritionist to improve nutritional services across the shelters. The PTC referred 71 identified victims to shelters, while two minor victims received services from the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services (MLSS); some victims declined to enter a shelter and instead utilized rehabilitative services at a government-run day center. In 2019, the women’s shelter assisted 59 adult victims and three children of victims; the men’s shelter assisted 33 victims, and the transitional apartments assisted 21 men and women, including 18 children. The majority of victims at the men’s shelter were Eritrean. The MLSS continued to operate the National Center for Survivors of Slavery and Trafficking in Persons, formerly known as the “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 center provided psycho-social services and food aid, with social workers trained to identify individuals at risk of re-trafficking. In 2019, the center provided services to 230 male and female victims, as well as 125 children of victims, all of whom were irregular African migrants primarily from Eritrea. 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. The government continued to provide free medical treatment for one year at various government-funded health facilities for identified trafficking victims living outside of shelters.
The government continued 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 opt to leave the country pending trial proceedings. The government allowed trafficking victims to work during the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. The LAA continued to provide free legal aid to trafficking victims, and staff regularly visited shelters and detention facilities to provide consultations. In 2019, the branch received 86 legal aid requests to assist potential trafficking victims, including 16 irregular migrants who may have been subjected to trafficking in the Sinai. In 2019, the government issued 32 initial B1 visas and 96 visa extensions to sex and labor trafficking victims. It also issued 34 visas to trafficking victims to return to Israel after leaving the country in 2019, a significant increase compared with five visas of this kind issued in 2018. The government forfeiture fund, which used property and money confiscated from traffickers to assist victims, received 56 applications requesting compensation in 2019; this was a significant increase compared with zero application requests in 2018. The fund allocated 420,510 Israeli shekels ($121,750) to 44 applicants for the provision of various protection services, including housing, counseling, and vocational training for victims, monetary compensation ordered by courts, and funding for NGOs.
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. During the reporting period, 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 the country; the government could also add penalties to the fund for each day a migrant remained in the country without a visa. NGOs continued to report that some employers withheld but never deposited wages into the fund. In December 2019, the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority (PIBA) announced that all trafficking victims would receive reimbursements for payments that exceeded the deposit rate, retroactive to the time they entered the country. PIBA reportedly also agreed to provide an official letter to victims confirming their eligibility to avoid requiring victims to disclose their status as trafficking victims; however, the government did not report implementing these procedures during the reporting period. NGOs continued to report that the Deposit Law pushed migrants—particularly Eritrean women—into the black market, including commercial sex, which exacerbated their vulnerability to trafficking. The government continued to incentivize irregular African migrants to “voluntarily” depart Israel to third countries in Africa, which included a paid plane ticket in most cases and a $3,500 stipend in some cases; however, NGOs and an international organization confirmed that migrants who arrived in a third country in Africa did not receive residency or employment rights upon arrival.