African migrants look on at police on horseback keeping the peace in south Tel Aviv.
African migrants look on at police on horseback keeping the peace in south Tel Aviv. Photo by Moti Milrod
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According to the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report published Tuesday by the U.S. State Department, Israel has reportedly improved its compliance with minimal standards to combat human trafficking.

The report further stated that Israel was moved from “tier 2” countries (not yet compliant, but taking great strides) to "tier 1" countries. This year, out of 168 countries included in the report, 17 countries were listed as tier 3, 42 were on tier 2 watch list, and 93 on tier 2, and 32 other countries listed as tier 1.

Nevertheless, Israel is mentioned in many reports referring to other countries as a destination for human trafficking.

The report states that "Israel is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking" and that “low-skilled workers from Thailand, China, Nepal, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and Romania ‘migrate voluntarily and legally to Israel for temporary contract labor.’"

The report also states that some of those same people face “conditions of forced labor, including unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, inability to change employer, nonpayment of wages, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation."

In addition, the report continues, labor recruitment agencies in source countries or brokers in Israel still require workers to pay "exorbitant recruitment fees to secure jobs in Israel - ranging from the equivalent of $4,000 to $20,000."

Another part of the report is dedicated to the abuse refugees face on their way to Israel, which is based on "many documented victim testimonies, an increasing number of migrants and asylum seekers - primarily from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia arriving in Israel who are reportedly held for ransom and forced into sexual servitude or labor during their captivity in the Egypt’s Sinai."

The report notes that while the Israeli government did improve its system of identifying and providing medical care for the victims of human trafficking, some of them continue to be abused in Israel, being forced into prostitution.

"The Government of Israel fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," the report says, stressing, however, that the government has "failed to protect some vulnerable populations, including some exploited foreign workers, foreign migrants, and asylum seekers arriving from Egypt who were forced into sexual servitude or forced labor during their captivity in the Sinai."

"As a result," it continues, "some unidentified victims may have been penalized for unlawful acts, such as immigration violations, committed as part of being trafficked."

Upon revealing the report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that an estimated 27 million people around the world today are victims of human trafficking.

"29 countries were upgraded from a lower tier to a higher one, which means that their governments are taking the right steps," Clinton said. "This could mean enacting strong laws, stepping up their investigations and prosecutions, or simply laying out a road map of steps they will take to respond. But this issue and the progress we've made are about much more than statistics on prosecutions and vulnerable populations."

‫Israel's Ministry of Justice praised Israel's ascent to the first tier as an "historic achievement."

Guy Rothkopf, the ministry's Director General and the head of the committee fighting human trafficking, said: "I am glad the efforts Israel made to confront this phenomenon bore fruit. Most important that these efforts brought significant and positive change in a way of dealing with victims of human trafficking and assistance provided to them. Government offices, Knesset and NGOs are all part of this success."

MK Orit Zuaretz, head of the Knesset's subcommittee on the trafficking of women, praised the changed policy of treating victims of human trafficking in Israel, but mentioned that this year "still there were several incidents of women trafficking and some of them were held as slaves. There is still not enough space in shelters, but the phenomenon of sex trade as we knew it in the past is practically eliminated."