Israel praised for campaign against human trafficking
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According to a new report by the US State Department, Israel is at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking.
In its "The Trafficking in Persons" Report released late last month, the State Department upgraded Israel from a "Tier Two" to a "Tier One" status, which places Israel in a group of 32 states around the world that the US regards as actively fighting human trafficking.
This latest upgrade is all the more significant given that, since the 1990s, Israel has been a hotbed for human trafficking, particularly in the form of prostitution and forced labour.
The large-scale immigration of former Soviet Union citizens to Israel in the 1990s brought with it both trafficking gangs and a new group of women vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
New laws and a greater urgency on the part of the government on the issue have propelled Israel to the new US ranking.
The report was full of praise for the Israeli government's work in tackling trafficking, commending the government's "sustained strong law enforcement actions against sex trafficking and strong overall prevention efforts during the year".
The report also commended Israel's 2006 Anti-Trafficking Law, which has led to the conviction of 15 sex traffickers.
Improvements have also been reported in the identification and protection of trafficking victims, victim support and medical treatment.
The report also highlighted two government facilities for trafficking victims, the Maagen and Atlas shelters, which granted free legal aid to 54 possible victims of trafficking in 2011.
For Israeli officials, the upgrade is welcome at a time when Israel's treatment of foreigners has come under strong criticism.
For national anti-trafficking co-ordinator at Israel's Ministry of Justice, Rachel Gershuni, the upgrade is overdue and should have happened two years ago, when many improvements to human trafficking had already been made.
Nonetheless, the report said: "The Israeli government has continued to grapple with the influx of foreign migrants and asylum seekers" and cites the "the government's improved procedures in Israeli prisons to identify trafficking victims among this large group of victims."
This report was a rare piece of praise for a country constantly under attack.
"We didn't do this to satisfy the State Department," said Ms Gershuni.
"We did it because Israel thought it was the right thing to do"