(photo credit: AP)
Israel and Russia must work more closely together to shut down all trafficking routes used to transport humans around the world, especially those that bring thousands of individuals into Israel each year, said Rita Chaikin, coordinator of Isha L'Isha's Anti-Trafficking project and its hotline for trafficking victims.
Chaikin's comments came Wednesday as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, one day after the Knesset passed a bill aimed at cracking down on traffickers who trade in humans. The new law will also award compensation to victims of forced labor, slavery, sexual exploitation and black-market organ sales and hand out stiffer prison sentences to the perpetrators.
"Routes into Israel need to be stopped at the source," said Chaikin, who received an award in April from Vital Voices, a Washington-based non-profit organization, for the work she has done in combating trafficking in Israel. "Putin must put more of an emphasis on tackling the problem of trafficking and follow the lead of Israel."
According to Shevy Korzen, executive director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, while most trafficking victims in Israel are not from Russia, it is a transit country. She said many of the victims were first brought to Moscow and from there to Egypt, where they were then smuggled across the border into Israel.
Attorney Rachel Gershoni, Israel's national coordinator in the battle against trafficking, also said Wednesday that there needed to be more cooperation between the two countries.
"We need to work together on law enforcement to see where these networks are forming. We need to have cooperation on the level of non-governmental organizations and the welfare system," said Gershoni, who helped draft the new law - a consolidation of a bill proposed by MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and a government bill.
Gershoni, whose job is to connect the Israel Police, government ministries and human rights groups with foreign governments and international bodies, said the new law was a big step forward in the battle to stop human trafficking and protect migrant workers.
"It does not just deal with prostitution but also with slavery, forced labor, pornography and organ donations," said Gershoni, adding, "this will also allow Israel to ratify two important international treaties on trafficking."
Gershoni also said the new law would provide the legal system with an entire array of crimes and criminal behavior that could be prosecuted.
The new law was well received by the various NGOs, many of whom shared their knowledge of the subject with legislators. However, they all said Israel still had a long way to go in solving the problem.
"Now the discipline is definitely more comprehensive and in line with the rest of the world," said Korzen. "However, while it is an important step, we still feel the Knesset did not go all the way with this law."
Roni Aloni-Sadovnik, spokeswoman for the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT), a project of the non-profit organization ATZUM, added, "the law is fine, but what is missing is the question of citizen responsibility. With child abuse cases, there is a law that demands those who know about it tell the authorities; there is also a 'Good Samaritan' law whereby citizens must help others they know are in trouble. But with this situation, how will the authorities know about abuses and slavery unless individuals raise awareness to this practice?"
"It is an excellent law compared to the old one," said Ayelet Lahmi, Anti-Trafficking in Women coordinator at Amnesty International's Israel branch. However, she said many of the victims were returned to their former countries where they were killed or drawn back into the trafficking cycle. All of the NGOs highlighted the concern that the system of issuing visas to victims of trafficking crimes needs to be improved.