Slavery and Trafficking in Persons in Israel
In 2006, Israel enacted a comprehensive law banning human trafficking in its various forms. Israel is also a signatory of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons and several other conventions against this crime. Israel thus expressed its commitment to combating this ugly phenomenon, which is one of the gravest offences under Israeli law.
In 2012, Israel rose to Tier 1, the highest ranking, in the U.S. State Department’s annual trafficking in persons report. This means that Israel has proven that it successfully combated the phenomena of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Unfortunately, it appears that this success has led Israeli authorities to rest of their laurels and they no longer make a concerted effort to track, monitor and deal with human trafficking and slavery in Israel. In the past few months, the conduct of Israeli authorities belied a significant reduction in its committed to combating human trafficking, identifying new and old forms of this phenomenon, and tracking down victims of this serious crime.
Modern-Day Slavery of Deaf East Europeans
In 2014, the Israeli Immigration Authority uncovered that a criminal syndicate lured deaf people from Eastern Europe to Israel through dating websites for the deaf. The syndicate sent the victims out into Israel’s streets with fake donation receipts and cards in Hebrew, forcing them to work for 14-16 hours a day.
The Ministry of Interior failed to understand that this is a case of modern-day slavery. Without the intervention of the Administrative Detention Review Tribunal and the Hotline, the Ministry of Interior would have kept treating the victims as undocumented migrants and deporting them immediately.
Throughout 2014, the Hotline documented 15 cases of migrants from Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Moldova and Romania) who were arrested and deported by the Immigration Authority before the Hotline was aware of their presence in Israel. Out of seven additional victims who were identified by an Administrative Tribunal judge, six refused to cooperate, apparently because they feared their trafficker, and only one, who was willing to cooperate was transferred to a shelter of human trafficking victims.
Regression in Handling of Trafficking for Sex Work
A few years ago, Israel changed the visa policy for East Europeans and citizens of Moldova and Ukraine no longer need to acquire an entry visa prior to arrival in Israel. As a result, the entry of Eastern European women through the airport has become easier, and tracking the entry of trafficking victims has become more challenging. On top of this, the common view among relevant Israeli authorities is that trafficking in women has been eliminated in Israel, and therefore authorities do little to keep track of the issue. The result is an apparent resurgence of trafficking in women for sex work, in a different configuration than ones we’ve observed before.
Immigration Authority inspectors recently arrested 11 women from Eastern Europe in a strip club and deported them without first informing Israeli Police or the Ministry of Justice, before they could identify whether they were victims of trafficking for sex work. If the women had been interviewed by the qualified authorities, we could have learned about the phenomenon, its characteristics and extent, and of course, help these women, if necessary.
Statistics from the Past Year
During 2014, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, discovered and identified at least 75 trafficking in person survivors:
• 15 deaf East Europeans who were trafficked into Israel to beg on the streets for donations were arrested and deported by the Immigration Authority.
• 7 additional deaf East Europeans trafficking survivors were identified by one of the Administrative Detention Tribunal judges in prison, after the Hotline alerted the Ministry of Justice and the Police about the phenomenon. Their deportation was prevented.
• 11 East European women were arrested in a strip club and deported by the Immigration Authority, without informing the Police and the Ministry of Justice, before there was an opportunity to determine whether they were trafficked for the sex industry.
• 29 Eritrean survivors of the torture camps in Sinai who’ve been held for over two years in Israeli immigration detention, were identified by the Hotline as human trafficking and slavery survivors who worked for their employers.
• 13 Eritreans who survived slavery and torture at the hands of traffickers in Sinai were recognized as trafficking victims outside of detention, after they turned to the Hotline for help.