Photo: Shula Keshet

During the 1990s, the trafficking in women, mostly for the purpose of prostitution, became prevalent in Israel. In 2000, following reports published by the women’s lobby and Amnesty International, which relied on information provided by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Knesset passed a law against trafficking in women for the sex trade. In 2006, the law was amended to include the trafficking in person for the purpose of labor, organ trafficking and employment in slavery-like conditions. Under the law, employment in slavery conditions occurs if several of these conditions are met: limitations on movement, withholding the worker’s passport, employment for long hours with the worker being unable to control his own time, and very low pay or no pay at all.

Thanks to an intense campaign of human rights organizations, migrants who in the past would be jailed and deported, are instead recognized as trafficking victims, transferred to shelters and receive a stay permit until the legal proceedings against their traffickers/employers. Once the legal proceedings are completed, the victims receive a work visa for one year of rehabilitation and can work at whatever field they choose (unlike migrant workers in Israel, whose visas are restricted to certain sectors). The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, which led the struggle against human trafficking in Israel and for the rights of the victims, won the Presidential Award for Combating Trafficking in Persons in 2009, the first year the award was bestowed.

In the past decade, several cases were uncovered of caregivers who were locked up by their employers; even when they were not physically confined, they were told they were not allowed to leave the house. Sometimes, these women stay inside for years without leaving the home, and their presence is unknown to authorities and human rights organizations. In March 2012, six years after the law was amended to prohibit other forms of trafficking in addition to the sex trade, the first Israeli employer was convicted of holding a Filipino worker in slavery-like conditions.

In recent years, a number of migrant workers in the sectors of agriculture and fishing were recognized at trafficking victims after Israeli Police ruled that they were employed in slavery-like conditions. These workers received very little pay, their ability to leave their employer was highly restricted and oftentimes their passports were confiscated by the employers.