The latest US State Department report on trafficked persons, released on 16 June, says Israel is still a destination for men and women trafficked for forced labour and sexual exploitation.
Women from the former Soviet Union and China are still being trafficked across the border with Egypt into Israel for forced prostitution by organized criminal groups.
According to local NGOs, such as Isha L’iash and Moked, each year several hundred women in Israel – many of them foreigners – are trafficked within the country for commercial sexual exploitation, according to the report.
In 2006 Israel was put on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list and has been described as a “prime destination for trafficking” by both the State Department and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
However, the State Department report recognized Israeli efforts in the past three years: Although the government did not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it had made significant efforts to do so, with law enforcement, police activity against traffickers, and the provision of assistance and shelter to victims of sex trafficking.
In 2008, the Israeli government gave US$1.25 million to a local NGO, Ma’agan, which provides shelter to foreign victims of sex trafficking. The funds were used for rent, utility bills, security and medical care. During the year, the shelter assisted 44 women.
Forced Labour Victims
The report said the Israeli government did not provide most of the forced labour victims with protection services (safe shelter or medical and psychological aid) and recommended that it begin to do so.
Israel lacks a shelter for victims of labour trafficking, including migrant workers who come to the country voluntarily. However, the authorities referred six female victims of forced labour to the Ma’agan shelter during the reporting period.
Workers from China, Romania, Turkey, Thailand, the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India migrate voluntarily and legally to Israel for contract labour in the construction, agriculture, and health care industries. Some subsequently face conditions of forced labour, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical intimidation.
Many recruitment agencies in the workers’ countries of origin and in Israel require workers to pay recruitment fees ranging between US$1,000 and US$10,000. This makes the workers highly vulnerable to trafficking or to becoming victims of debt bondage once they arrive in Israel.
The director-general of the Ministry of Justice, Moshe Shilo, told reporters on 16 June he was satisfied that the report had noted the efforts made by the government and the Justice Ministry.
Attorney Adi Vilinger, human trafficking force coordinator at the Hotline for Migrant workers, a local NGO working for the rights of migrant workers, refugees and trafficked persons, told IRIN: “We recognize the great progress the government has made in the past three years on the issue of trafficked women from outside Israel, but regret to see that the government has yet to make sufficient progress on the issue of trafficked foreign workers and local Israeli women trafficked inside Israel for sexual exploitation. We still have a long road ahead of us.”
In March 2009, Israeli police uncovered the largest human trafficking gang to have ever operated in Israel.
The suspected traffickers are accused of smuggling hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union into Israel to work in the sex industry. According to the police, they trafficked over 2,000 women into Israel and Cyprus over a six-year period. They are now on trial.