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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Israel steps up battle on sex trafficking

US State Department notes improvement in Israel's human trafficking prevention, but says Jewish state still plagued with abuse

WASHINGTON – More than 42,000 adults and children who were kept as slaves, forced into prostitution or otherwise trafficked were discovered by authorities around the world in 2011, according to a report released by the US State Department on Tuesday. But the staggering figure was just a fraction of the estimated number of people who fall victims to human trafficking each year, a figure that is estimated to reach 800,000.

According to the report, Israel has improved its sex trafficking prevention efforts, as well as its treatment of people who are trafficked. This year's document ranks Israel in the topmost tier of nations, which means the government has fulfilled the minimum standards for the elimination of modern slavery.

The Israeli government improved its system of identifying and providing medical care for these victims, who are trafficked and abused before they arrive in Israel," the document read.

The report cited isolated cases of women from the former Soviet Union, China, and South America who are subjected to forced prostitution in Israel, but noted that the number of women affected by the phenomenon continues to decline since the Jewish state passed an anti-trafficking law in 2006.

"The Israeli government continued to grapple with the influx of foreign migrants and asylum seekers arriving from the Sinai, primarily from Eritrea, Sudan, and to a lesser extent Ethiopia, many of whom were victims of torture prior to their entry into Israel, and some of whom were identified as victims of trafficking," the report said.

NGOs noted the government’s improved procedures in Israeli prisons to identify trafficking victims among this large group of migrants and referral of victims to service providers. The government continued to improve its system of identifying victims and providing medical treatment, even to those victims who were abused and trafficked prior to arriving in Israel."

Israel has asserted that it does not have the ability to aid a large number of trafficking victims who arrive from Egypt.

'Israel – destination for modern slaves'

The report also stresses, however, that that the modern slavery problem is alive and well in the Jewish state. Israel is described as a destination country for people subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.

According to the document, in addition to the African migrants who illegally cross into Israel from Sinai, many legal migrant workers who come from Thailand, China, Nepal, the Philippines, India and other countries "face conditions of forced labor, including through such practices as the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, inability to change or otherwise choose one’s employer, nonpayment of wages, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation."

Furthermore, many labor recruitment agencies in require workers to pay exorbitant recruitment fees to secure jobs in Israel, ranging from $4,000 to $20,000, a practice that contributes to forced labor.

Syria's ranking has dropped to Tier 3, the lowermost group, and could therefore face sanctions imposed by the US. According to the report, the Syrian government "is not making significant efforts" to eliminate human trafficking within its territory. Meanwhile, Lebanon and Myanmar have bettered their efforts to battle modern slavery.

'Raped victims go untreated'

Alongside the release of the report, the US has chosen to honor several individuals who devoted their lives to fighting modern slavery. One of this year's recipients was Azezet Habtezghi Kidane, an Eritrean nun volunteering at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. According to the NGO, Kidane was sent to volunteer in Israel at a critical time and was a key element in retrieving testimonies from refugees who fell victim to torture in Sinai.

Kidane said that over the past two years she had interviewed many of asylum seekers and has heard hundreds of heartbreaking stories of extortion, imprisonment, torture and death.

The Knesset's Subcommittee on the Trafficking in Women convened Tuesday to discuss the horrors experienced by asylum seekers who arrive in Israel. According to data presented by Shimon Bibas, who heads Saharonim Prison, 36 pregnant women were detained at the facility this year, five of whom were pregnant due to rape. Fifteen were sexually assaulted while crossing Sinai on their way to Israel; of them, 13 underwent prolonged sexual abuse.

Of the men who arrived at Saharonim this year, 19 were starved, 35 were severely beaten and six were lashed with a whip. In total, 6,000 men and 2,500 women crossed the border into Israel since March.

Also according to the data, 15 young women who were raped before arriving in Israel from Sinai remain untreated at the detention facility due to lack of space at the Maagan Shelter for trafficking victims.

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