Testifying in “Sri Lankan”? Not at the Israel Police
The worker, who knew no one in Israel, contacted the agency that brought him to Israel and says he paid $5,500 in handling fees. According to Kav L’Oved’s report, the agency confiscated his passport, saying it needed it to arrange a residence and work permit for him here. But they did nothing to acquire the permit, and the worker became an unemployed and illegal resident.
The case is one of 45 complaints the organization has filed since the beginning of the year regarding foreign victims of the “flying visa” scheme. They pay thousands of dollars to work in Israel, but when they arrive, no work is provided. Employment agents are responsible for this scheme. They receive permits to employ foreign workers to care for elderly or disabled people who are sometimes unaware that they have been used for this purpose. They take money from these foreigners, but provide them with no work and expose them to the threat of deportation from Israel. They earn thousands of dollars for every worker they bring to Israel in this scheme. Almost none of these complaints to Kav L’Oved has been investigated.
No one with whom to speak
The worker from Sri Lanka was summoned for questioning by the Tel Aviv District Police three months after Kav L’Oved filed its report. But even though the report stated that the worker spoke no language other than “Sri Lankan,” the police neither summoned a translator nor agreed to question the man using an English-speaking friend who accompanied him. They claimed the friend was not “objective.”
Not only was the man not questioned, he did not receive a document confirming that he had filed his own complaint with the police. That document might have helped him obtain at least a temporary work permit from the Interior Ministry. Ann Sucio, who is responsible for Kav L’Oved’s foreign workers’ division, says that when she called the police to ask why the man was not questioned after being summoned, the detective told her that there was no Sri Lankan translator and that she, the detective, was waiting for Kav L’Oved to provide an appropriate translator so she could summon the worker again.
“The problem repeats itself with the police, the courts, and in hospitals, where workers arrive after a fight or an accident and there is no one to speak to them,” says Kav L’Oved director Hannah Zohar. “If the state is not prepared and not set up to handle foreign workers, why does it bring them here? That’s as basic as a-b-c. If you bring workers from a certain country, you need an infrastructure to handle them, and translators are the most basic thing.”
Impossible to collect testimony
The lack of translators also compromises the police’s ability and willingness to investigate crime in the foreign workers’ communities. “When one Chinese worker attacks another Chinese worker, the police usually can’t gather testimony, and that reduces their motivation to investigate. If a foreign worker attacks an Israeli, the police make a slightly greater effort, but there is a real difficulty. There are no translation services at all for certain languages, and there are limited services for others, which are not always appropriate,” Zohar says.
Most of the “flying visa” cases reported by Kav L’Oved this year have involved workers from Sri Lanka, Nepal and India. In all these cases, the need for urgent handling was stressed to the immigration police because the workers have become illegal residents in Israel. They are victims of the scheme – they do not find work in Israel, they live under threat of deportation, and some of them are even forced to sleep on the street.
When the organization discovered that the police had not been summoning foreign workers for questioning, they contacted the police to request an explanation. They were initially told that the police were collapsing under the burden of illegal African immigration across the Egyptian border. It later became clear that this was not the main problem.
“In recent weeks, we repeatedly received requests from police inspectors that we send translators in a variety of languages to facilitate their questioning of foreign workers who sought to file complaints. We became translation providers to the police,” Zohar says. This phenomenon was soon explained: The company that won the tender to provide translation services to the police, the Protocol Company, is incapable of providing translators in all the relevant languages. For its part, Protocol says in its advertising that it provides translators in 33 languages.
Fraud victims are not the only ones who suffer from these problems. A few months ago, Kav L’Oved received a report on a Nepali who complained that she was raped by the son of the woman she was hired to assist. The woman spoke neither Hebrew nor English, and Kav L’Oved found another female worker from Nepal who translated and accompanied the woman to the police for questioning.
But police and prosecution pressured Kav L’Oved to provide a professional Nepali translator because the accused party had been detained. There was a fear that the court would refuse to prolong detention unless the complainant arrived at the hearing accompanied by a professional translator.
Kav L’Oved found a translator, but Sucio says she was unavailable to attend one of the hearings, and they were forced to enlist another translator – a well-known figure in the Nepali foreign workers’ community. After he translated the complainant’s statements in court, he told her story to friends and it spread to other members of the community, causing the woman anguish, according to Sucio.
Another case involving anguish: Southern District Immigration Police are investigating a complaint of sexual harassment of a female Nepali worker. Female police detectives asked Kav L’Oved to provide a female translator to help the investigation, which was repeatedly delayed. Finally, and with the assistance of the Nepali embassy, the police found a translator. “Apparently, in cases involving a female foreign worker, the only way to investigate sexual harassment is with the help of a man,” says Sucio.
The police admit that there is a problem, and they say the company that won the tender to provide translation services to the Investigations Department is incapable of providing translators in all the necessary languages. So a new tender will be published in August.
Protocol provides stenography and translation services to courts, government bodies and other public institutions.
The company said in response that the police tender did indeed state that the winner of the tender must provide translation in languages from countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal. “If the police act in accordance with their own protocol for summoning translators, that would make it much easier to provide translators for rare languages as well,” the company said.