Israel Revokes Residence Permit of Woman Recognized as Victim of Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence

The woman, recognized as a victim in 2020 after being brought from Ethiopia for a forced marriage, had her permit revoked days before her hearing without explanation. Her Israeli husband was only detained this week

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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A shelter for battered women in central Israel.
A shelter for battered women in central Israel.Credit: Hadas Parush
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Israel revoked the temporary residence permit of a human trafficking victim from Ethiopia who was forced into a marriage with an Israeli citizen, two days before a scheduled interview with the Population and Immigration Authority – in violation of the agency’s own rules and without an explanation.

The woman’s status was revoked despite her application to extend her visa, in accordance with Interior Ministry protocols for dealing with female victims of violence, and despite the fact that the Justice Ministry’s national anti-trafficking officer was in contact with her lawyers. Immigration agency officials apologized and cited “human error.” However, a source in the authority criticized the handling of the affair and the treatment the victim received.

In late November Haaretz reported on the situation of the woman, who is referred to in the article as “H.” The report notes that about 15 Ethiopian women are known to have been brought to Israel for forced marriages. Most of them have been recognized as trafficking victims, and the state believes there are many more in the same situation that it doesn’t know about.

On Tuesday the woman’s husband was detained for questioning for the first time. The purpose of his interrogation – conducted in cooperation with Interpol, which is gathering evidence in Ethiopia – is to strengthen the argument that the offenses go beyond “mere” violence and also constitute human trafficking. Police officials told Haaretz that the investigation in Ethiopia is hampered by lack of cooperation and by the fighting in the area.

The woman, who was given temporary residency by dint of marriage to an Israeli citizen, was recognized as a victim of trafficking in April 2020 and has been living in a shelter for female victims of domestic violence for nearly a year. However her husband was not arrested or questioned until recently. Police detectives have instructed her to remain in the shelter in order to keep her safe until the investigation is completed.

A doll at a shelter for battered women in central Israel. Credit: Hadas Parush

On November 9, Sigalit Zohar, the Justice Ministry’s national anti-trafficking officer, asked the police and the head of the immigration authority’s temporary populations division, Michal Yosepof, to help the woman. Zohar repeated her plea about a week later, writing that the woman was expected to move to an apartment operated by the charity No2Violence Against Women and asking for the immigration agency’s humanitarian department to consider making her temporary residence permanent. “This is a particularly difficult humanitarian case, of human trafficking and of severe sexual violence on the husband’s part,” Zohar wrote. She did not receive a reply.

On Tuesday, she and her attorney, Michal Pomeranz, who is representing her on behalf of the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department, visited the Population and Immigration Authority office in central Israel for a hearing and to submit a residency request based on humanitarian grounds. According to authority regulations, the residency permit of anyone submitting a request is automatically extended by a month until the committee chairperson makes a decision. However, Pomeranz was informed two days before the committee meeting that H.’s permit, which was valid until December 16, was being rescinded. H. was asked at the end of the meeting to sign off on the Hebrew-language minutes, even though she doesn’t speak the language.

“It is regrettable that the Population Authority acts once again with such unreceptiveness toward a woman who has undergone incredibly difficult experiences, and the fact that the authority made a decision before even bothering to hear her is infuriating,” Pomeranz the attorney and Zohar the anti-trafficking officer said in a statement. “An immigration officer asked her during her interview, which lacked any privacy and was next to another woman’s hearing, why she hadn’t told immigration officials about her troubles in other interviews. We’re talking about the authority’s atrocious lack of awareness and a badge of shame. It’s unclear why the authority expects people to have faith in it when it acts this way.”

H.told Haaretz in August, when she knew her permit would expire in December, that she didn’t know where to go to. “We were exploited in all sorts of ways,” she recalled. “After they used us, they tossed us out like trash. They told us: ‘Who are you, who will listen to you? You have no citizenship.’ We were brought like luggage. The men looked at us like we’re their property.”

A branch of Israel's Population and Immigration Authority.

Vardit Danziger, director-general of No2Violence Against Women, said: “It is frustrating and disappointing that instead of letting H. rehabilitate in wake of the violence she suffered, she is forced to fight a war of survival. If she will be forced to return to Ethiopia, it’ll be like going back to hell.”

H., in her 20s, grew up with her father and stepmother, who signed the deal with the Israeli man when H. was a student. The father and stepmother spoke with the man by phone while he was in Israel, and he promised to open a store for H. and that she would continue her studies. H. opposed the match and fled to a relative, but he brought her back home. H. recalled that the Israeli first met her at a hotel in Ethiopia, where he confined her and raped her several times a day for two weeks, sometimes until she fainted. She came to Israel with him two years ago, and he filed in her name a residency request to the Population Authority.

H. said that she did not divulge her troubles during the hearings at the Interior Ministry to extend her permit because she was afraid of her husband and a divorce. She said that divorced women who return to Ethiopia disparaged and are condemned to a life of prostitution. H. lived with the man she married for two years, during which he forced her to work and took her earnings.

A coworker noticed her distress and referred her to the municipal welfare department. The police’s human trafficking unit recognized her as a human trafficking victim and as a person being held in servitude in April.

The Population Authority commented: “The case involves a couple, an Israeli and a foreigner, who started a graduated process of obtaining residency status for the female partner about a year and a half ago. She was given residency status last December. Three months after receiving that status, she left the home, and according to the information we received, she entered a shelter. Based on her representative’s request, the process of recognizing her as a human trafficking victim began in parallel. The applicant was recognized as a trafficking victim, and at the same time stopped the process of receiving status by dint of marriage. As soon as the process ended, she was offered a residency and work permit in recognition of her status as a trafficking victim, but she refused the permit on the advice of her representative. Due to human error, the process of receiving citizenship by dint of marriage was halted two days before the interview to stop it, and we apologize for that. The applicant now has the option to receive the residency permit offered her.”

The police commented: “Violence in the family and between partners in particular is an unacceptable social phenomenon demanding care and special preparedness. The Israel Police takes it very seriously and deals with every complaint or piece of information in this area, with investigative cases handled thoroughly in full cooperation with the relevant authorities. When the complaint arrived, an investigation, which is still ongoing, was opened, involving investigative activities in Israel and abroad, including the arrest and questioning of the suspect, after which he was released conditionally. The complainant’s stay in a shelter is part of the assistance she received from welfare authorities to protect her.

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