Israel is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and, to a much lesser extent, a source country for women subjected to sex trafficking. Low-skilled workers primarily from Thailand, China, Nepal, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Bulgaria, Ghana, Moldova, and to a lesser extent, Romania, migrate voluntarily and legally to Israel for temporary contract labor in the construction, agriculture, caregiving, fishing and other industries. Some face forced labor, experiencing 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. Foreign workers within the agricultural sector report that they face withholding of passports, long workdays with no breaks or rest days, and low salaries. Men from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and India reportedly work in harsh conditions on fishing boats; some of this labor may amount to human trafficking, distinguished by isolation, long working hours with little rest, and withheld salaries. Caregivers, especially live-in caregivers, are highly vulnerable to forced labor due to their isolation inside private residences and because they are not protected under the Work and Rest Hours Law, which regulates work conditions. Many labor recruitment agencies in source countries and brokers in Israel require workers to pay recruitment fees to secure jobs in the caregiving sector, a practice that contributes to forced labor once migrants are working in the country. In recent years, women from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, China, Ghana, and to a lesser extent South America, were subjected to sex trafficking in Israel; some of these women arrive on tourist visas for the purpose of working in prostitution for a short period of time before returning to their home country but are subsequently subjected to forced prostitution. Some Israeli women and girls may be subjected to sex trafficking in Israel.
Since 2011, thousands of African migrants—primarily from Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan, and to a lesser extent, Ethiopia, and Cote d’Ivoire—have entered 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 severe abuses, including human trafficking, at the hands of criminal groups in Egypt’s northern Sinai before reaching Israel; some reported being forced to work as cleaners or on construction sites during their captivity. Although the flow of migrants arriving in Israel has almost ceased—dropping from 10,000 in 2012 to 36 in 2013—following the construction of the fence along the Israel-Egypt border and other deterrence measures, international organizations report that the abuses in Egypt continue to occur against this vulnerable group. The 53,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers, most of whom arrived to Israel through the Sinai in Egypt, are highly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking in Israel, due to their lack of formal work status and pressure to repay their family and friends for the large debts owed for the ransoms paid to free them from criminal groups in Egypt’s northern Sinai. A local health clinic reports that both male and female Eritrean migrants are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Israel. The government and NGOs report that some find informal work in the agriculture sector under harsh conditions; some of this work may amount to forced labor.
The Government of Israel fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government sustained strong law enforcement actions against sex and labor trafficking, although courts did not sentence some convicted offenders to prison terms commensurate with the severity of the offense. The government continued to identify and refer victims to government-funded shelters for trafficking victims, and it cooperated with NGOs to identify potential victims. In addition, the government opened a third trafficking shelter and a day center to provide services to an increasing number of identified victims. It continued to improve its efforts to proactively identify and provide protection to victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrants from the Sinai in Egypt. The government released from detention victims of trafficking, who were identified among African migrants abused in the Sinai, and provided them with temporary assistance until shelter space became available. Nonetheless, NGOs continued to raise concerns that the government-funded shelter space was still inadequate to serve all trafficking victims or potential trafficking victims in Israel. The government continued to implement strong anti-trafficking prevention measures.
Recommendations for Israel:
Impose stricter sentences on convicted trafficking offenders, consistent with the gravity of this serious crime; continue to provide protection to all trafficking victims, including shelter and medical and psychological treatment; ensure that trafficking victims are not penalized, including by being detained, for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as immigration violations; continue to strengthen trafficking victim identification among African migrants—particularly Eritrean and Sudanese—who endured severe abuses in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula; 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; continue to increase training for regional district police units and other law enforcement officials, such as prison officials, in victim identification, victim sensitivity, and enforcement of labor and sex trafficking laws; increase enforcement of foreign worker labor rights; and increase investigations of forced prostitution of Israeli nationals, including children, and foreign migrants forced to work in the fishing industry.
The government sustained strong law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking, though sentences given to some convicted trafficking offenders were low. 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. In 2013, the government conducted at least 32 investigations of sex trafficking and four investigations of forced labor. Police continued to investigate potential cases of forced labor referred by NGOs, while the central police initiated 88 investigations based on its own proactive investigative work. The government reported initiating new prosecutions against at least eight sex trafficking defendants and one forced labor defendant; it convicted 22 sex traffickers and three forced labor offenders. Despite this, some trafficking offenders were given sentences that were not sufficiently serious to deter the crime. Sex traffickers were given sentences ranging from six months’ community service to 16 years’ imprisonment. Forced labor offenders were given sentences ranging from four months’ community service to two years’ imprisonment. Law enforcement efforts were consistent with those undertaken in 2012, when the government investigated 28 cases of sex trafficking and seven cases of forced labor, prosecuted nine sex trafficking defendants and 10 forced labor defendants, and convicted 17 sex traffickers and four forced labor offenders. An Israeli national was extradited from Turkey in February 2013 to face charges of trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution; in December 2013, he was sentenced to three years’ suspended imprisonment. The legal aid branch of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) provided legal assistance to a domestic worker from Cameroon to seek compensation from her employer and file a request for a stay permit. The worker claimed her foreign diplomat employer withheld her passport and did not pay her. The police initiated three investigations of immigration officers accused of sexual offenses against foreign workers that, in some cases, may have amounted to sex trafficking; indictments were filed in all three cases.
Central police provided nationwide anti-trafficking training to local police units responsible for enforcing trafficking crimes and handling trafficking investigations; every central police unit had a trained investigator specialized in trafficking. NGOs, however, continued to report that some police units handling trafficking cases lacked experience, interpreters, familiarity with migrant workers’ communities, and sensitivity. The government continued to provide numerous anti-trafficking trainings, workshops, and seminars for law enforcement and judicial officials, social workers, and NGOs. The police reported that training for officers that handle cases related to children in prostitution has led to an increase in investigations of such crimes.
The government improved identification and protection of trafficking victims, including those among vulnerable populations. The government continued to widely circulate victim identification guidelines to relevant government ministries, which regularly referred potential victims to the police to open an investigation and ensure the provision of protective services to victims. Authorities also continued to regularly cooperate with NGOs on victim identification and referral. For example, the police continued a program with an NGO to help identify sex trafficking victims during police raids of brothels and refer them to NGO protection services. The government continued to fund the 35-bed Maagan shelter for female trafficking victims and a 35-bed Atlas shelter for foreign male trafficking victims, both of which allowed shelter residents to leave freely. These shelters offered one year of rehabilitation services, including job training, psychosocial support, medical treatment, language training, and legal assistance; however, NGOs reported that the shelters lacked adequate psychological care. The shelter staff maintained contact with trafficking victims after they left the shelter to assist victims with reintegration into Israeli society and to ensure future work conditions were not exploitative. The government also funded transitional apartments with 18 beds for trafficking victims, as needed. The government opened a new 18-bed shelter for female victims in December 2013 in response to the increased number of trafficking victims identified among the African migrants abused in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In 2013, the Maagan shelter assisted 67 victims; the transitional apartments housed 33 women and six children; and the Atlas shelter assisted 104 men. This was an increase from the 58 female and 53 male victims these shelters assisted in 2012. In 2013, police identified and referred 39 female and 26 male trafficking victims to shelter services, which was a slight increase from the 33 women referred in 2012, but a significant decrease from the 53 men referred in 2012. The Detention Review Tribunal released from detention and referred 15 Eritrean and Ethiopian women, who were identified as trafficking victims from the Sinai in Egypt but detained in Israel for immigration violations, to the Maagan shelter. Though most victims of trafficking were not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, some foreign trafficking victims, such as those arriving from the Sinai and some forced labor victims, were detained for immigration violations. For example, according to a local NGO, police detained three Thai fishermen who were forced to work for an Israeli shipping agency that withheld their passports, allowed only two hours’ rest, and provided insufficient food and living conditions; the fisherman were detained for months while waiting to testify against their employer on non-trafficking related charges.
Though the numbers of African migrants arriving in Israel from Egypt significantly decreased in 2013, the government continued to grapple with policies to address the group’s vulnerabilities, as some members of this group had been subjected to trafficking prior to their entry into Israel. The government improved its system of identifying and providing assistance to trafficking victims in the immigrant detention facilities. The government released from detention 18 male and 36 female trafficking victims to the homes of relatives or friends until space became available at one of the shelters; an NGO also reported receiving 39 referrals for victim support services from the court in 2013. However, social welfare NGOs expressed concern that the female victims, who resided within their communities until shelter space became available, were highly vulnerable to being re-victimized and compelled to work in prostitution to pay off debts owed to friends and family for ransoms paid to free the women from being held captive in the Sinai in Egypt. In addition, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) opened a day center in Tel Aviv in August 2013 as an interim solution for female trafficking victims who were abused in the Sinai and were awaiting space at the shelters; in November 2013, it started offering services to male victims. This day center provided psychosocial services and food aid, and it also identified individuals at risk of trafficking and referred them to shelter services. The center was open three mornings and two evenings a week. The center provided services to 24 women and 10 men in 2013. Additionally, the government provided trafficking victims who endured abuses in the Sinai in Egypt, but live within their communities in Israel, as opposed to receiving services at a shelter, an official letter and telephone numbers of the anti-trafficking unit, the shelter, and the Ministry of Welfare in the event that they were detained for immigration violations. However, an international organization voiced concerns that this was not an adequate protection measure to prevent victims from being arrested and detained.
The legal aid branch of the MOJ continued to provide free legal aid to trafficking victims. In 2013, the branch provided legal aid to 187 African migrants who had endured abuses in the Sinai in Egypt; of these individuals, 19 men and 16 women were identified as trafficking victims. In 2013, the government issued five B1 visas to newly identified trafficking victims, eight “rehabilitation year” visas, and 156 extensions of B1 visas that allowed victims to work legally and without restriction; these were not contingent on their participation in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers. The B1 visas could be renewed for a “rehabilitation year;” however, some victims no longer had legal status in Israel once their visas expired. In addition, in September 2013, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) issued B1 visas to all female Eritrean trafficking victims residing in the Maagan shelter, and it issued B1 work visas to Eritrean male victims in October 2013; overall, the government issued 54 new B1 visas and two one-year extensions to this population in 2013. In comparison, in 2012, the government issued 44 and extended 301 temporary B1 visas to trafficking victims. After the B1 visa given to victims for a one-year rehabilitation period expired, Eritrean trafficking victims received a “conditional release” A5 visa, which was renewable every one to three months, but did not include legal permission to work. The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers but did not require their participation as a condition for receiving assistance; government policy also allowed trafficking victims to work during the period of investigation and prosecution. The Government of Israel encouraged trafficking victims to participate in the criminal prosecution of their exploiters through offering a moderate stipend, a B1 work visa during the period of investigation and prosecution, and protection services; victims can opt to leave the country pending trial proceedings.
The government made sustained progress in preventing and raising awareness of human trafficking. The anti-trafficking unit within the MOJ, which served as the lead coordinating body among governmental agencies, continued to hold meetings with government ministries, NGOs, and the Knesset (parliament), as well as conduct trainings for officials. The anti-trafficking unit continued to chair an inter-ministerial committee appointed to study women and children in prostitution in Israel. The Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and Prostitution held frequent public meetings, while the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers held hearings focused on forced labor, examining the MOI’s policy toward African migrants abused in the Sinai in Egypt and reforming employment of foreign caregivers. In February 2014, the government held its sixth annual ceremony to present awards to individuals or organizations that had made a significant contribution against human trafficking. The government also produced a brochure on the indicators of trafficking to disseminate to the public. In January 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent to all foreign diplomatic and consular missions in Israel a document entitled “Slavery in Diplomatic Households: A Cooperative Battle Waged by Host Countries and Foreign Missions” to raise foreign missions’ awareness of domestic servitude and encourage them to take preventative measures against trafficking. Likewise, in February and March 2013, the government conducted two anti-trafficking lectures to Israeli ambassadors and consuls who were to be sent to diplomatic missions abroad.
The Population and Immigration Authority (PIA) opened 1,551 new investigations and imposed 1,581 fines against foreign workers’ employers, and it filed 205 criminal indictments against employers of foreign workers who violated labor laws. The Ministry of Economy (MOE) initiated 452 investigations concerning employers of foreign workers, imposed 23 financial sanctions and issued 332 administrative warnings against 108 employers; six indictments were filed against six employers and two were convicted. NGOs remained concerned that labor inspectors lacked Thai interpreters during inspections in the agriculture sector, which prevented inspectors from communicating with and receiving complaints from the predominantly Thai migrant workers in this sector; however, the MOE reported using interpreters during inspections. In 2013, the police reported it investigated one case of illegal collection of brokerage fees and the police Prosecution Unit filed one indictment for inflated brokerage fees. In accordance with PIA procedures for recruitment agencies in the care giving sector, the PIA required that every agency hired a head licensed social worker to be responsible for supervising the conditions of foreign caregivers, including home visits, and for informing the relevant authorities about any labor violations. The government continued to operate a 24-hour hotline for foreign workers to lodge complaints. In 2013, the hotline received 1,748 complaints from foreign workers, 1,632 of which were from Thai workers in the agriculture sector and 117 complaints were from Bulgarian and Moldovan workers in the construction sector; the complaints were primarily related to salary issues and workers’ accommodations, but no trafficking victims were reportedly identified through this hotline. The government reported efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor, and it made efforts to address sex tourism of Israeli nationals domestically and abroad.