Ghana Dancers Treated as Slave Laborers Still Awaiting Visas

Justice Ministry concluded 6 months ago that term of employment violated trafficking laws.

Two Ghanaian dancers who were treated as slave laborers are still awaiting the Interior Ministry's response to their visa application, six months after the Justice Ministry's legal aid department concluded that their terms of employment violated human trafficking and anti-slavery laws. Meanwhile, since they are unable to work here legally, they have been reduced to living in appalling conditions.

Ako Korfeka, Gideon Ekrung and four colleagues were brought to Israel in 2008 by choreographer Dikla Harel to give a series of performances. They were promised decent pay, but received only NIS 300 to NIS 350 a month, the two claim. They were also made to sign a contract that bound them to their employer for the next 40 years and imposed a $700,000 penalty for violations. This led the legal aid department to conclude that their employment violated human trafficking and anti-slavery laws.

Four months ago, attorney Naomi Levenkron of the Hotline for Migrant Workers asked the Interior Ministry to grant Korfeka and Ekrung a visa that would enable them to work here for one year. That is standard practice for people who have been treated as slave laborers. But so far, no response has been received from the ministry, though the Tel Aviv District Court did issue an order barring their deportation.

On Sunday, Levenkron submitted a request to the Tel Aviv court for an urgent hearing on their case, arguing that their current situation of limbo is intolerable. "They have no place to live, and without a visa, they are forced to exist at the mercy of others," she wrote.

Their living conditions, as a visit to their current "home" in South Tel Aviv demonstrates, are very poor: They are living in an underground bomb shelter that was converted into a church, along with some 30 other migrants and asylum seekers. There is no shower, so they bathe with a bucket of water. The facility also has sewage leaks and fumes that enter through a hole in the wall from an adjacent factory.

Moreover, since they cannot legally work, they have no way of buying food.