Egypt: ‘In Sinai, I saw hell’; refugees are easy prey for brutal human traffickers

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The flow of asylum seekers into Israel from the Sinai slowed to a trickle last year after Israel constructed a fence on the border with Egypt to keep out African migrants.

“As the refugee flow to Israel decreased, the Rashaida started to lose money, so they began to kidnap refugees from camps inside Sudan,” Ms. Estefanos said.

Sudanese soldiers guarding the United Nations’ Shagarab refugee camp in eastern Sudan often work with the kidnappers.

“A large proportion of refugees are abducted from the camps,” said Mirjam van Reisen, a professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands who co-authored a report on human trafficking in the Sinai with Ms. Estefanos.

Girmay Berhane, a 23-year-old Eritrean Christian, was a refugee at the Shagarab camp when he was arrested by local police because he did not have the proper papers. He later was sold to the Rashaida and then to Bedouin traffickers in Egypt.

Mr. Berhane’s captors demanded that each person in his group pay a $50,000 ransom.

“When we told them this is too much money they started to beat us with sticks, metal pipes and chains,” Mr. Berhane said in a phone interview from Cairo, where he arrived two months ago. “They asked if we had family in America or any other Western countries. If we told them we did, they wanted even more money.”

Their captor, a Bedouin named Abu Omar, had four henchmen who were eager to please their boss by carrying out his barbaric orders.

“They did very bad things to us on his orders,” Mr. Habte said.

Many of the migrants are “forced into sexual servitude or forced labor during their captivity in the Sinai,” the State Department said in its annual report on human trafficking. “Reports of physical and sexual abuse continue to increase.”

Even children are not spared.

Ms. van Reisen heard from survivors about a 6-month-old baby who was beaten in an attempt to force its parents to beg for ransom money.

The huge ransoms that the traffickers demand devastate families. Communities in the diaspora, including in the U.S., often pool their resources to collect the money.

As of May, more than 54,000 asylum seekers had migrated to Israel through the Egyptian Sinai border, according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

“It is the responsibility of the Egyptian government to stop the torture in the Sinai, but Israel is also responsible for taking care of the victims,” said Shahar Shoham, a project director with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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