A November 30 Physicians for Human Rights/Israel (PHR-I) report explains "chilling evidence" of atrocities committed against sub-Saharan African refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers.
Titled, "Hundreds of Refugees Held Hostage in Sinai Torture Camps Need Rescuing," it discusses their horrific ordeal in captivity, including torture, other physical abuse, male and female rapes, and killings.
Human traffickers mainly hold Eritreans for ransom. Relatives are pressured to pay. Tactics include phoning them to hear loved ones cry out in pain. Survivors report starvation, punching, slapping, kicking, whipping, burial in sand, electric shocks, hanging by hands or legs, branding with hot irons, as well as rape or other forms of sexual abuse.
Despite appeals for help, detention, extortion and torture continue. Hundreds remain captive.
A November 22 Amnesty International (AI) report discussed abuses committed against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, including:
• Egyptian security forces shooting unarmed individuals trying to reach Israel; deaths and injuries resulted, some serious;
• others face arrest and prosecution in military courts, as well as imprisonment for trying to emigrate;
• forcibly returning individuals to countries of origin where they risk "egregious human rights violations;" and
• others abducted, held captive, tortured, raped, or killed by human traffickers, "while authorities have done little to protect them."
Egypt is party to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. They require signatories protect refugees and prevent repatriation to countries of origin or third ones where serious human rights abuses may occur.
In addition, according to a 1954 Memorandum of Understanding between Egypt and UNHCR, authorities must grant asylum-seekers access to the agency and respect its determination of refugee status. Egypt systematically violates its obligations under international law. It also delays or limits UNHCR access.
AI received "numerous reports of hostages being shot dead by their captors to demonstrate to family members of other hostages the seriousness of their threats."
This issue follows others about subjecting sub-Saharan African refugees to forced organ harvesting. Most often, victims don't survive.
Egypt is also party to international conventions relating to human trafficking. They include the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families; and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
It supplements the 2004 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Egypt's statute laws also prohibit human trafficking and abuses relating to it. Its junta government ignores its legal obligations.
Current Status of Sinai Hostages
As of mid-November, one group of 165 Eritrean refugees are held hostage. Three contacted the Hotline for Migrant Workers, saying eight smugglers hold them, 13 women and 15 unaccompanied minors (aged 14 - 16) captive.
They're secluded north of Mansoura, not Sinai. They've been tortured to pressure family members to pay $30,000 ransoms. Women are raped nightly. Abuse caused five deaths.
Another group of 59 hostages are held for $23,000 ransom. Similar abuses are being committed, including a seven-month pregnant women multiply raped.
A separate group number 111 hostages held for $28,000 ransom. Their whereabouts isn't known. A Sudanese refugee in Israel told PHT/I about 17 others in Sinai. Captives demand $5,200 in ransoms. They're part of a larger group released after payments were made. Some are currently in Israel.
The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) learned of 200 more Eritreans transferred from Sudan to Sinai. Prominent smugglers include Abu Abdullah, Abu Musa, Abu Ali Ibrahim, Khaled and Ahmed.
Refugees at times are sold from one smuggler to another. In 2011, PHR/I's Open Clinic interviewed about 800 patients arriving in Israel via Sinai. Nearly 80% reported abductions, threats at gunpoint, abusive chaining, and torture. In addition, women and some men are raped.
Some involuntarily arrived in Israel after being held for months. In mid-November, Egyptian media reported violent tribal confrontations in central Sinai after accusations of involvement in organ trafficking.
"I paid $3,000 to the smuggler Abdullah to transfer me to Israel. He then demanded an additional $10,000 and tortured me - hooking up the metal chains to the electricity until we fainted. I went through torture like this for two and a half months, until my relatives from the USA, Europe, Saudi Arabia and Sudan managed to collect the additional $10,000."
"We, the men in the group, tried to protect the young women from the smugglers who wanted to rape them. They took us, put our legs and hands in chains and raped us as a punishment."
A man said:
"Baha, the night guard, always looked at one of the women. We could tell that he wanted to rape her, but didn't want to leave us unwatched. On night he ordered all of us to look the other way and raped her right next to us. We heard her cries. We couldn't help her."
Another one said:
"I didn't know they were taking me to Sinai. In Sinai we were taken to Davit, from Eritrea, and two Bedouins: Khaled and Abdullah. They told us to pay to be smuggled to Israel. Only then did I understand that they wanted to transfer us" there.
A woman said:
"I was a virgin when I arrived in the desert. During the first few times that I was raped I cried and resisted, but that didn't help. They wouldn't leave me alone. After that I stopped resisting."
Another woman said:
In Sudan, "I agreed to pay the smugglers $2,500 to transfer me to Israel. When I arrived in Sinai, the smuggler sold me (and others to) Abdullah. (He) demanded an additional $10,000."
"I had no way to raise" the money. He "raped me for five days." So did two other smugglers. "I wanted to resist but I had no strength and the smugglers nearly strangled me during the rape."
"I got pregnant (now seventh months along). During this time, I was chained to another woman. We received food every few days and I managed to wash myself three times during the entire period."
"Only after eight months was my father able to send the smugglers $5,000. They released me and allowed me to cross the border to Israel. I must have an abortion. My husband should not know what happened....and I must not give birth to this child."
Other testimonies revealed similar horrors. Some were lucky to survive to tell them.
The Greater Human Toll
According to a Research and Information Center of the Israeli Parliament report, 11,763 people were smuggled for ransom into Israel in 2010. Many were Eritreans and Ethiopians. Dozens of testimonies revealed they were held under horrific conditions and tortured until released.
The EveryOne Group of Italian human rights organizations confirmed similar reports, including killings, male and female rapes, and organ trafficking.
PHR-I asked the Ministries of Health and Welfare to grant social residency status to refugees and asylum seekers so they'd have access to public health.
It also asked Egypt's new government to help locate and free refugees and asylum seekers and not shoot those trying to enter Israel from Sinai.
No known actions have been taken. Neither country treats refugees or asylum seekers humanely under international law or their own.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
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