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Human Rights Watch, UN call on Egyptian and Sudanese authorities to protect refugees

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Human Rights Watch report documents widespread rape, torture, murder and extortion against Eritrean refugees

An Eritrean man shows the wounds he says traffickers inflicted on him in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to force him and his relatives to pay ransom for his release (Photo by Tom Dale for Human Rights Watch)

An Eritrean man shows the wounds he says traffickers inflicted on him in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to force him and his relatives to pay ransom for his release
(Photo by Tom Dale for Human Rights Watch)

By Jake Lippincott

Twenty four members of the UN Human Rights Council called on Egypt and Sudan “to investigate and prosecute traffickers for kidnapping, torturing, and killing refugees in the Sinai Peninsula,” According to Human Rights Watch in a statement released on Monday.

The 24 countries, led by Germany, also called for the authorities “to identify and prosecute any security officials who may have colluded with traffickers”.

This statement comes after the release of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement in February which documents appalling abuses perpetrated by Egyptian and Sudanese traffickers against Eritrean migrants in both countries. According to the February report, since 2010, Bedouin criminals in the Sinai Peninsula have been kidnapping Eritrean refugees travelling through the peninsula and subjecting the migrants to “horrific violence in order to extort large sums of money from the victims’ relatives.”

According to the HRW report, the criminals “hold a mobile phone line open to their hostages’ relatives as they physically abuse their victims. The relatives hear the screams and the kidnappers demand the ransom for the victims’ release.”

The report documents cases of “rape, burning, mutilation and deformation of limbs, electric shocks, and other forms of violence” and says that criminal groups operating in Sudan often kidnap Eritreans from refugee camps near the Sudanese border with Eritrea and sell them to Sinai groups. Eritreans who are not able to pay the ransom are often tortured to death.

According to the report, the traffickers operate with the assistance of “Sudanese and Egyptian police and the military who hand victims over to traffickers in police stations, turn a blind eye at checkpoints, and return escaped trafficking victims to traffickers.”

Furthermore, Egyptian security forces often arrest Eritreans after they are released by traffickers and charge them with immigration offenses, detain them and deny them medical care. One Egyptian trafficker interviewed for the report admitted openly to torturing and murdering men and women to extract ransoms.  “I first started doing this because I had no money but saw others making lots of money this way,” he said. “The government doesn’t care so I don’t mind talking [to Human Rights Watch].”

The more recent UN statement echoes HRW’s calls for prosecuting traffickers and cracking down on security forces that are facilitating the abuse. Despite the harrowing nature of the abuses and the evidence of government collusion, the Egyptian government “has prosecuted only one trafficker in Cairo, and has neither investigated nor prosecuted traffickers in Sinai.” There has also been no action taken against any Egyptian security forces. The statement ends by calling on Egypt to enforce its own laws “which says trafficking victims should receive assistance, protection, and immunity from prosecution.”


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