By Mirjam van Reisen
A new report titled ‘Human Trafficking in the Sinai. Refugees between Life and Death’ sheds new light on the devastation caused by the trafficking in the Sinai. Hostages are killed unless they collect exorbitant ransoms from relatives, which can go up to USD 35,000 or even more. These ransoms are collected from family members in home countries and from relatives in the diaspora.
A network of financial laundering supports the ransom collection. The report is authored by this writer, Meron Estefanos and Dr Conny Rijken, from Tilburg University and European External Policy Advisors (EEPA).
The victims endure unspeakable torture, and increasingly women and children are included, tortured and raped. Hostages are repeatedly electrocuted, hanged upside down, beaten with iron rods and burnt with dripping plastic. Pregnant women are tortured and the interviews even identify beating of a one year old baby. Family members held in captivity are made to choose who will live, if not sufficient ransom can be collected to release both. Many hostages die in captivity due to the cruelty endured.
Once ransoms have been paid, there is no certainty that victims are released. They are often sold on to other traffickers. If they are released they are often too weak to make it to a safe place, being undernourished and weakened by the torture endured. Once released there is the danger of being shot by Egyptian police.
The places where hostages are held are in walking distance from the Israeli border, which has recently been fenced and the Israeli military have orders to not allow the released hostages through. Without food and water many collapse. NGOs are not permitted to visit.
Those hostages that make it to safety either in Israel or in Cairo are detained in detention centres from where they are deported back to their country of origin. For most hostages this is Eritrea. In this country the hostages are in danger of being imprisoned. Most refugees escape the national service which is in place for adults and therefore cannot safely return.
Speaking against the Eritrean regime is dangerous and even those who are outside of the country endanger family members if they do not speak openly in support of the regime. There are strong indications that officials themselves are involved in selection for trafficking and Eritreans are involved in the organisation of the human trafficking and the collection of the ransoms.
During a hearing in the European Parliament on September 26, 2012 in Brussels activists and humanitarian workers expressed solidarity with the hostages and called on authorities to fulfil obligations to prevent the trafficking and protect the victims. For Eritreans push-back to their country of origin must be stopped given the political repression in this country. This push-back should be stopped from involved countries such as Egypt, Italy, Libya and Israel, they said.
The European Commission was called upon to start infringement procedures against Italy to stop push-back of Eritreans. More humanitarian and medical facilities were urged, especially also urgent access to gynaecological services for the women. Europol was asked to begin a phenomenon report.
The report asks the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR to organise the protection of the refugees it takes responsibility for, so that they are secure in the camps and do not risk kidnapping. The new Government of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was called upon to take control over the lawless Sinai and make sure that police are targeting the traffickers instead of shooting the victims from the trafficking.
In a recent documentary CNN suggests that trafficking in the Sinai is decreasing but the new report disputes this. The figures do not show a decrease in numbers. However the number of women and children in captivity seems to be increasing. Also the number of people that have disappeared is increasing.
The report is based on 104 recorded interviews with people in captivity. The hostages have mobile phones with pay and go carts to phone relatives to collect the ransom. Through these direct interviews, the report voices the devastation of the hostages and their plea to make an end the torture houses in the Sinai.
Mirjam van Reisen is professor International Social Responsibility at the Tilburg University, founding director of the Europe External Policy Advisors (EEPA) in Brussels and member of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees (ICER). IDN Viewpoints reflect opinions of respective writers, which are not necessarily shared by the InDepthNews editorial board.