Israel to Deport Human Trafficking Victim, Possibly Separating Her From 12-year-old Son

Immigration authority director said he didn't find 'any special humanitarian reasons' to grant status to woman who was trafficked to Israel in 1991 and has an Israeli child

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A sex work facility in south Tel Aviv, January 2018.
A sex work facility in south Tel Aviv, January 2018.Credit: Meged Gozani
Vered Lee
Vered Lee

A victim of human trafficking is going to be deported from Israel during the next two weeks, under a decision made by the interministerial advisory committee on granting residency in Israel for humanitarian reasons.

Even the fact that she has a 12-year-old son ‒ an Israeli citizen suffering from fear of abandonment and other emotional problems ‒ didn’t prevent the order to deport her, and potentially separate her from her son, from being made.

“I have not found any special humanitarian reasons that justify granting status in Israel,” wrote Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of the Population and Immigration Authority, in ordering the deportation. “If she wants to deepen her relationship with her son, she can do so through a variety of ways, including visits, phone calls, video, and so on.”

The 41-year-old victim of human trafficking, whose real name isn't published for privacy reasons, has been suffering from depression since the June 2 decision.

“The Population and Immigration Authority is blatantly ignoring the emotional state of the child, an Israeli citizen, and the fear of abandonment that he developed in the past and succeeded in overcoming,” says attorney Galit Lubetzky, who represents the family.

Last week Lubetszky appealed the decision for Sophia to be deported to the Jerusalem Appeals Tribunal.

“The Population Authority determined that she can keep up her relationship with her son by technological means and visits … There is a deep gap between a physical connection with the knowledge that a parent is nearby and accessible, and a relationship based on phone calls, Zoom, and periodic visits.”

In his decision, Mor-Yosef also wrote, “During the committee discussion, the police representative said there was an indication of the applicant’s criminal past.” However, Lubetzky said in response that, “The Population Authority is making a claim without elaborating on which criminal cases they mean … The humanitarian committee is obligated to balance all the considerations relating to the issue and certainly not to relate to a police complaint as the exclusive consideration that decides the matter.”

The woman's story was first told in Haaretz in February 2018. A native of Russia, she was brought to Israel on false pretenses when she was 21, in 1999, when trafficking in women in Israel was at its height. She was sold from one trafficker to another for a year, and was forced to provide sexual services to some 30 men a day.

“It was hell,” she told Haaretz. “It erased my soul. To this day I have a hard time remembering things that happened and I suffer blank spots in my train of thought. To this day I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and fears. You can’t ever really get past it, it’s something that’s with you for the rest of your life.”

She managed to extract herself from her situation and married an Israeli man, and had a son with him. In July 2005, shortly after her marriage, the couple launched the process of regularizing her status. She received a temporary residency visa (A/5) that was renewed from time to time. But the trauma of her time doing sex work manifested itself again in post-partum depression. Then her husband, who had been a well-off businessman, went bankrupt, adding financial stress to their problems.

Her emotional state deteriorated and at one point, and in the midst of a psychotic breakdown, she went to the Interior Ministry and declared that she wanted to leave Israel. This resulted in her regularization process being stopped. She tried to commit suicide and was admitted to a mental health facility. After spending time in Russia, she returned to Israel and in 2014 the couple submitted a new request to regularize her status. But in March 2015 the couple separated.

Single, and having never been recognized as a trafficking victim, she was referred to the humanitarian committee, which deals with situations not addressed by the law. There, her request for residency was refused and she was ordered to leave the country.

Lubetzky filed an appeal in February 2018, and a month later the Jerusalem Appeals Tribunal ordered the Population and Immigration Authority to extend the woman's visa until a decision was made.

During the tribunal hearing, Judge Ilan Halbaga hinted to the Interior Ministry officials that their case wouldn’t stand up in court, given that they had acted with total indifference to what is best for the child, his age, and the circumstances of the case. Following the judge’s criticism, the Population and Immigration Authority agreed to reevaluate the case.

The trafficking victim has recovered and has become a stable person with a healthy lifestyle. In recent years, she’s been working at a prestigious restaurant as a chef. She is a supportive mother to her son and has repaid all the debts she had accumulated. She has a good relationship with her ex-husband and he is helping her fight deportation.

“It’s a disgrace that the humanitarian committee … is ignoring the needs of an Israeli child and of his mother, who was a trafficking victim,” said Lubetzky.

The Population and Immigration Authority responded by saying: “First, we want to protest the baseless claim that the state is ignoring the phenomenon of trafficking in women. We are partners in the struggle against this despicable phenomenon, and taking part in deliberations on the matter, as well as actions and decisions made to contend with it over the past few years.”

The authority added that “The State of Israel is ranked by the U.S. State Department as one of the countries that are investing great efforts to battle the phenomenon, including boosting prevention, enforcement and protection measures.    

“As for this case, we’re talking about a foreign national who was given the status of temporary resident because of her marriage to an Israeli citizen, and that relationship ended. The couple has a son, who is in the father’s custody and the mother has visitation rights. Her request for status has been discussed a number of times. Further information will be provided in court,” the authority said.

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