More Female Eritrean Asylum Seekers Working in Prostitution in Israel

Aid agencies fear the number of asylum seekers engaged in prostitution will grow in the absence of suitable treatment for trafficking victims

A brothel in Tel Aviv, February 2018.
Moti Milrod

The number of Eritrean women working as prostitutes in Israel soared last year to about 360 from about 200, according to data submitted by aid agencies to the Knesset subcommittee on human trafficking.

The agencies voiced fears that the number of asylum seekers engaged in prostitution will grow in the absence of suitable treatment for trafficking victims.

Back in July, committee members discovered that the state had no data on the number of trafficking and torture victims in Israel, and no information about the precise characteristics of this population. At Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing, government agencies reported progress on a pilot project meant to fill this information vacuum.

The project, which began last August and will end in June, involves 100 asylum seekers who survived torture in Sinai. Its goal for now is not to provide any solutions for their problems, but merely to figure out what their needs are.

“Our estimate is that there are currently some 3,000 victims of human trafficking in Israel, about one quarter of them women,” the Justice Ministry’s coordinator for fighting human trafficking, attorney Dina Dominitz, told the subcommittee.

“This population is liable to fall victim to trafficking even within Israel, in part because of their need to repay the ransom money they were forced to get from their families, friends or other parties. It will be easy to exploit them, and that’s especially true for women, who could wind up working in prostitution.”

Subcommittee Chairwoman Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) welcomed the pilot project but said it was insufficient because it provided no treatment to the victims.

Officials from aid organizations who attended the meeting protested the government’s unwillingness to offer trafficking victims, especially participants in the pilot project, protection from the choice many asylum seekers now face between unlimited detention and deportation to a third country.

“The pilot’s starting assumption must be that torture victims are neither jailed nor deported,” said Dr. Zoe Gutzeit of Physicians for Human Rights.