A victim of human trafficking from the West African country of Niger who arrived in Israel in 2009 was given temporary resident status last week after being previously denied Israeli resident status three times. An appeal tribunal granted the woman, who has three children born in Israel, resident status for two years, after ruling that the Interior Ministry had not seriously considered concerns raised by the woman over what she could face if she were forced to return to Niger.
In 2017, the Population and Immigration Authority found that the woman’s affiliation with her country of origin was stronger than her ties to Israel and that the threat facing her was mitigated by the death of her uncle, whom the woman said had threatened her. The Population Authority’s humanitarian committee rejected her claim that she was afraid of men and cited as contrary evidence her relationship with the father of her children, who are 6, 5 and 2 years of age. In 2020, a further appeal that she filed was denied, based on a finding that she had illegally entered Israel to improve her economic standing and would not be harmed if she is repatriated to Niger. The findings were ratified by the director general of the Population Authority at the time, Shlomo Bar-Yosef.
The 35-year-old woman said that she had lost her family at a young age and was expelled from her Muslim uncle’s home because she is Christian, after which she was left with nothing. She said she crossed the border into Chad, staying there for a week before moving on to Sudan, where she was handed over to a man who raped and tortured her.
She said that she escaped him and made her way to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where she fell into the hands of two locals, one of whom she said raped her on a daily basis along with his friends and beat and threatened her with a weapon. She said she ultimately managed to escape and join a group of Eritreans who crossed into Israel under fire by Egyptian soldiers.
After she entered Israel, she was held at the Saharonim detention facility in Israel’s south. When she arrived at Saharonim, she did not report being a victim of human trafficking and instead asked for political asylum. Her request for asylum was denied based on a ruling that it lacked detail. In 2010, after being provided legal counsel by the Justice Ministry, she obtained a police document confirming that she had been a victim of trafficking. She was released from Saharonim and moved to a shelter. Two years later, she moved to transitional housing and was given a work permit.
Her initial request for legal status in Israel on humanitarian grounds was rejected in 2014 by the Population Authority, which took the position that recognition as a victim of human trafficking is a temporary situation that is conferred for purposes of rehabilitation. Her appeal to an appellate tribunal was also denied. After a further appeal to the district court, her case was ordered returned to the humanitarian committee, which after interviewing her, turned her down twice more.
The Population Authority consistently claimed that her relationship with a man should dispel her concerns about returning to Niger, even as a single mother in a country that views a woman in her situation as inferior. Her partner, a native of Zimbabwe, is himself a stateless victim of human trafficking.
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The Population Authority cast doubt on the woman’s claim that she was a victim of trafficking because rather than reporting it when she crossed into Israel, she only did so when she arrived at Saharonim. When she was turned down for legal status a third time, the state took the position that the committee did not have the professional tools to determine whether her life would be at risk in Niger.
The ruling by administrative appellate judge Rachel Schramm last week noted that the Population Authority director’s reference to the humanitarian aspects of the case were limited to a few lines, raising difficulties that may even exceed what is reasonable.
“The woman’s case wasn’t handled with appropriate seriousness,” she ruled. “Committee members and the director did not truly relate to the implications of their decision on the fate of this woman and her children. The only references to concerns about further victimization of this woman were limited to general and terse statements while avoiding deciding the question at hand.”
The judge noted Israel’s commitment to the UN Palermo Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. She described the woman’s case as “a rare combination of circumstances, a unique and complicated humanitarian mosaic.”
The judge described the woman as a past victim of trafficking; a citizen of a country in which women’s rights are trampled; a Christian in a country that is overwhelming Muslim; and a single mother, from the standpoint of Israeli law, without extended family or support. The judge ruled that no importance should be attached to her belated reporting of her circumstances, a phenomenon that the judge said is common among victims of sexual abuse.
“The decision of the Population Authority [in 2020] is almost identical to its prior decision,” the judge wrote. “The array of circumstances requires thorough consideration and looking at the entire picture. Not all of this is reflected in the authority’s decision. This is a real travesty, and it’s time that her sorrow is put to an end.”
If the ruling is not overturned, the case will be re-examined in two years. The woman told Haaretz that she has gone through some very difficult years.
“I was stranded with no visa, no status and no stability. All I had was one big uncertainty. I was alone, with no future, depressed. For the entire time, I wondered what would happen. I was full of thoughts, without one moment of happiness.”
Now, she said, she can provide her children with hope. “I always dreamed of getting opportunity. I’m young and strong. My children were born here and don’t know any other country. I want them to feel like everyone else. I only want to be equal.”
Michal Pomeranz, the woman’s legal aid lawyer, expressed the hope that the Population Authority would not challenge the most recent decision granting the woman two years of legal status in Israel. The lawyer said that she hoped that “in view of its faulty conduct, as described in the ruling, it will act to mend its ways with regard to other victimized women.”