The government decreased victim identification and protection efforts. In addition, the government’s victim identification policies actively re-traumatized victims and delayed access to appropriate services. In 2020, the government reported receiving 74 victim referrals from NGOs and government sources, compared with 96 referrals in 2019. Of the 74 referrals, the government granted official trafficking victim status to 69 individuals—including 53 women and 16 men—a slight decrease from the 73 victims identified in 2019. Of the 69 identified victims, 39 Israeli women and girls were victims of slavery in a cult, nine were victims of sex trafficking, and 20 were victims of forced labor. The government identified one male victim exploited in the Sinai prior to arriving in Israel, a decrease from three exploited victims identified in the Sinai the previous year. The government continued to circulate trafficking victim identification guidelines widely to relevant ministries. However, the government reported the PTC 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 the government only authorized one PTC officer to review victim applications throughout the country, the process significantly delayed for months—and in some cases, years—and at times inhibited victims’ access to much-needed protection services during those delays. NGOs reported the sole PTC officer denied victim identification requests because they appeared complex and only uncomplicated requests received approval; in 2020, the government approved several cases initially denied by PTC after NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court. NGOs reported 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 2020. In addition, due to the high burden placed on victims to recount and prove their victimization, including by providing witnesses to their accounts, NGOs reported victims were re-traumatized without guarantee of receiving government services; victims were also reluctant to contact witnesses due to stigmas associated with their exploitation. In May 2020, the government committed to establishing an appeal process within six months and to create a set of criteria for official victim identification in response to a Supreme Court case; at the end of the reporting period, the PTC had drafted both policies but had yet to finalize or begin implementation of them. 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 trafficking victims. For example, the government granted victim status to a Moldovan sex trafficking victim 18 years after her exploitation; the recognition was ultimately too late, and she died of a drug overdose two months after her recognition as a trafficking victim.
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. In response to the pandemic, the government divided shelter residents into “bubbles” to limit transmission, and each shelter designated quarantine areas for isolating residents potentially exposed to COVID-19. Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services (MLSS) also facilitated the vaccination of shelter residents and staff ahead of the general population to decrease chances of an outbreak at the shelters. Shelter residents could leave freely. These shelters offered one year of rehabilitation services, including job training, psycho-social support, medical treatment, language training, and legal assistance. Due to pandemic-related mitigation measures, some services, such as medical consultations and psycho-social care, took place virtually or via telephone rather than in-person during part of the reporting period. In 2020, the women’s shelter assisted 40 adult victims and three children of victims; the men’s shelter assisted 32 victims, and the transitional apartments assisted 9 women and 21 children accompanying their mothers; 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. Shelter staff adjusted operations to accommodate deaf and deaf-mute victims during the reporting period including by contracting an interpreter. 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 2020, the center provided services to 133 male and 106 female victims, as well as 160 children; this is compared to 2019 when the center provided services to 230 male and female victims, as well as 125 children of victims. The government allocated 7.78 million shekels ($2.42 million) to the operation of the shelters, transitional apartments, and center in 2020, the same as 2019. 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. During the reporting period, the government distributed new policy guidance for collecting early testimony in cases involving foreign victims if foreign victims requested repatriation before completion of their case. In March 2021, the government established a new procedure for managing sex crimes, including sex trafficking, by designating a contact person at every court to coordinate victims’ security during proceedings, arranging private waiting rooms, and enabling video testimony. The government allowed trafficking victims to work during the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. The Legal Aid Administration (LAA) continued to provide free legal aid to trafficking victims; due to the pandemic, staff regularly consulted with victims virtually rather than in person. In 2020, the LAA received 76 legal aid requests to assist potential trafficking victims compared to 86 legal aid requests in 2019. The government provided all victims residing in the shelters with B1 visas—unrestricted work visas; in 2020, the government issued 29 new B1 visas and 99 B1 visa extensions to trafficking victims. Following the conclusion of criminal proceedings, trafficking victims could request a rehabilitation visa for an additional year; due to delays caused by the pandemic, the government extended rehabilitation visas on an ad hoc basis. In 2020, the government issued 14 one-year rehabilitation visas and three one-year extensions. It also issued eight visas to trafficking victims to return to Israel after leaving the country in 2020, a significant decrease compared with 34 visas of this kind issued in 2019. The government forfeiture fund, which used property and money confiscated from traffickers to assist victims, lacked sufficient resources to allocate new grants to victims in 2020. However, the National Anti-Trafficking Unit (NATU) and the fund’s committee ensured allocations approved in previous reporting periods would be fully allocated; the government transferred 83 percent of the approved 2019 allocations totaling 419,500 shekels ($130,560) to an unknown number of 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 anti-trafficking law dictated the court must explain its decision to abstain from awarding compensation in the verdict, making compensation the default; in 2020, the government awarded at least 235,600 shekels ($73,330) in victim compensation during criminal proceedings.
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 or individuals in prostitution and, as a result, authorities may have penalized unidentified and some identified victims for immigration violations or prostitution offenses. In December 2020, the government announced a program to expunge the records of individuals convicted of prostitution-associated offenses, including potential sex trafficking victims; the government did not report how many records it expunged during the reporting period, and the program was only available to those not sentenced to prison terms. In April 2020, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional 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 deduct from the fund for each day a migrant remained in the country without a visa. Following this ruling, PIBA set up a website through which workers could request their deducted wages be returned. As of March 2021, the government had returned 210.54 million shekels ($65.53 million) to 14,473 workers; 3,445 workers had not yet received their deposit, and 3,202 had not yet filed a request. As the government began returning all withheld money to workers, the government opened 60 investigations into employers who deducted but did not deposit funds; 30 employers received fines and authorities launched five criminal investigations, leading to one indictment. In October 2020, the MLSS rejected proposals by Knesset members to require the government to repay money owed to workers or to provide workers with legal assistance to sue their employers; at the end of the reporting period, the government did not address how to return money owed to this group of workers. 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.