The government increased protection efforts; however, it continued to punish identified and potential trafficking victims among the African migrant population for immigration violations, thereby preventing these victims from accessing appropriate protection services. The government continued to circulate trafficking victim identification guidelines widely to relevant ministries. Government officials referred more potential trafficking victims to the police during the reporting period, in comparison to previous years in which NGOs were the only source of victim referrals. The Israeli National Police (INP) granted official trafficking victim status to 73 individuals in 2017—including 24 women and 49 men—which was an increase from the 47 victims identified in 2016. The INP was the only government entity with authority to grant referred individuals official trafficking victim status, which also allowed a victim full access to protection services. During the majority of the reporting period, only one police officer in the country was authorized to interview and adjudicate applications for victim status, which led to significant delays. Recognizing this deficiency, in January 2018 the government appointed two full-time police officers to handle and process victim applications, with the intent of accelerating the process. In addition, during the reporting period, the National Anti-Trafficking Unit (NATU) coordinated with the INP to institute a fast-track procedure to more efficiently identify trafficking victims and eliminate a backlog of hundreds of applications for victim status. Nevertheless, an NGO reported that the INP’s evidentiary standard for victim referrals from NGOs became stricter in 2017 by requiring witness testimony, thereby impeding efforts to officially recognize and provide at least 37 victims identified by an NGO with appropriate care.
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 and six beds for male victims. Shelter residents were allowed to leave freely and, by law, all victims residing in the shelters were provided B1 visas—unrestricted work visas. These shelters offered one year of rehabilitation services, including job training, psycho-social support, medical treatment, language training, and legal assistance. The INP referred all 73 identified victims to shelters, but some declined to enter a shelter and instead utilized rehabilitative services at a government-run day center. In 2017, the women’s shelter assisted 41 victims, including four children; the men’s shelter assisted 57 victims; and the transitional apartments assisted 24 men and women, including eight children. The majority of victims at the men’s shelter were Ethiopian and Eritrean. The Ministry of Social Affairs continued to operate a day center in Tel Aviv for male and female trafficking victims who were either waiting for a space at a shelter or who chose not to reside at a shelter. The day center provided psycho-social services and food aid, and social workers at the center were trained to identify individuals at risk of trafficking and refer them to shelter services. In 2017, the center provided services to 256 men and women. The government also operated 12 centers for adult and child sex trafficking victims, which provided medical and rehabilitation services; the government assisted 350 individuals at these centers in 2017. 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. Identified trafficking victims living outside of shelters were also entitled to receive one-year of free medical coverage at various government-funded health facilities. In 2017, the government provided medical care to 106 male and female trafficking victims.
The Ministry of Justice Legal Aid Administration (LAA) continued to provide free legal aid to trafficking victims. In 2017, the branch received 202 legal aid requests to assist potential trafficking victims, including 125 irregular migrants who may have been subjected to trafficking in the Sinai. In 2017, the government issued 20 initial B1 visas and 19 extensions to sex and labor trafficking victims. It also issued 65 visas preventing the deportation of trafficking victims and 25 extensions of such visas in 2017. The government continued to encourage victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, but did not require their participation as a condition for receiving visas and protective assistance; victims could also opt to leave the country pending trial proceedings. The government also allowed trafficking victims to work during the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. The government forfeiture fund, which used property and money confiscated from traffickers to assist victims, disbursed 886,960 shekels ($255,530) to victims in 2017.
The government published new guidelines in May 2017 discouraging the prosecution of forced labor victims for offenses committed during their exploitation; similar guidelines for sex trafficking victims were already in effect prior to the start of the reporting period. Nevertheless, the government continued to punish some trafficking victims—specifically those among the irregular African migrant population, some of whom were exploited in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula—as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. During the majority of the reporting period, the government lacked an effective process to identify or proactively screen for victims among this population, and as a result, authorities regularly detained or summoned to detention victims for immigration violations under the Law of Infiltration for one year without trial or conviction in the Holot facility and Saharonim and Giv’on prisons. Although the government characterized Holot as an open facility to detain “infiltrators,” NGOs and Holot residents claimed it was a de facto detention center due to its remote location in the desert and restrictions on movement. In November 2017, PIBA implemented a revised questionnaire for officials to utilize to screen for trafficking among irregular migrants who were summoned to Holot. However, PIBA did not investigate claims that at least one trafficking victim remained at Holot after an NGO identified the victim in early 2017, nor did it attempt to release the victim. During the reporting period, the LAA gained the release of three men from Saharonim prison after INP identified them as trafficking victims; LAA also secured exemptions from detention in Holot for an additional 26 men after INP identified them as victims. LAA also requested that PIBA suspend the summons of three migrants to Holot while INP reviewed their applications for trafficking victim status. Both government and NGO officials reported that detention, threat of detention, or summoning to detention triggered severe post-traumatic stress symptoms—including depression, fear, and eating disorders—among migrants that experienced abuse, and in some cases trafficking, in the Sinai. In December 2017, the Knesset approved a plan to close Holot and deport all detained migrants, some of whom may be trafficking victims, to third countries; PIBA further issued regulations in January 2018 establishing procedures to implement this plan.