U.S. to Fund Shelter for Israel's Human Trafficking Victims

Under an agreement signed by the United States and Israel on Thursday, the U.S. will donate $200,000 to build a shelter for women who have been the victims of human trafficking.

The shelter is set to open somewhere in the center of the country in approximately two months and will provide shelter and treatment for 50 women.

Initially, the shelter will only provide assistance for women waiting to testify against their pimps or handlers, though in future, it will be open to all women who have suffered in human trafficking, including those who are considering testifying and those looking for a safe haven until they leave the country.

The U.S. has spent over $100 million in the last two years to stop international trafficking in human beings and assist its victims.

In 2001, the U.S. State Department released its first annual Trafficking in Persons Report in which it described the situation in 92 countries. Israel was listed as one of the countries doing the least to fight this phenomenon, and the report advised such countries to ask the U.S. for help in battling human trafficking. Israel is one of a handful of countries to have received financial assistance from the U.S.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard LeBaron called the phenomenon of human trafficking a "plague" at Thursday's signing. He said that some people think that the U.S. is interfering in the internal affairs of a country, but the U.S. actually sees it as an opportunity to highlight the problem.

Prof. Dov Goldberger, director-general of the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, said that the women would receive psychological and medical treatment as well as legal advice at the shelter, which is to be run by the Keshet non-profit association. Police will be responsible for the security arrangements.

The building of the shelter has been delayed for more than a year due to a dispute between the Public Security Ministry and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry over who would run it. The director-general of the Justice Ministry was called in to arbitrate, and decided that the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry should run the shelter.

The shelter will cost NIS 3.5 million to build and run initially. The police say that the lack of such shelters for victims of human trafficking not only deprives women of their rights, as they are often forced to stay in lock-ups or improvised shelters and are thus in danger, but also often harms the police investigation of pimps.