Security Situation in Sinai: Opportunity to Liberate Torture Camps
In August 2012, for the first time since the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Egypt launched aerial attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. These raids were in retaliation to the events of the 6th of August 2012, when armed militants in Sinai killed16 Egyptian security officials at the border. In alignment with their new air raid policy, Egyptian military forces have entered various cities and towns in the northern Sinai to crackdown on Bedouin lawlessness in an operation the Egyptian media has dubbed the ‘Sinai cleansing campaign.’
However, the Egyptian government has failed to mention that the attack took place only a few kilometers from underground compounds where African asylum-seekers are being held hostage. Over a thousand testimonies from Sinai survivors tell of systematic rape, burning, electrocution, hanging by the hands, feet and neck, starvation, deprivation of water and other extreme torture mechanisms. This sadistic abuse often occurs while the victim is on the phone with relatives; traffickers hope that hearing a loved one’s screams and pleas will expedite the transfer of tens of thousands of dollars via well-developed illicit networks.
If President Mohamed Morsi truly seeks to meet international expectations as Egypt’s new democratic leader, he must include human trafficking as an essential aspect of his Sinai “cleansing” policy.
Since 2001, over 55,000 asylum seekers have fled the cruel dictatorship in Eritrea and genocide in Sudan through the Sinai desert to Israel. As these people made their way to Israel in search of refuge, criminal gangs involved in the smugglings of weapons, drugs, and prostitutes saw a new business opportunity in human trafficking and extortion.
Rings of traffickers working in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, and Israel have now crafted an intricate system by which kidnappings, torture and extortion are used as means to facilitate money transfers. Millions of dollars have already been paid to smuggling rings in Sinai, further funding their activities of weapon, drug, commodity, and people trafficking.
Recent events only reiterate the vital need for Egypt to assess and combat the situation in Sinai. To underestimate the role of this lucrative and growing trade in persons is to indirectly allow for peninsula’s black market economy to prosper. To fight back, Egypt needs to create and coordinate an intervention against the region’s brutal trade in human lives and livelihoods.
During the past two years, European, Egyptian, and Israeli human rights organizations have interviewed hundreds of Sinai victims. Names, phone numbers, and locations of many of these human trafficking compounds have been compiled and passed on to the Egyptian authorities and relevant international bodies. The government of Egypt should use their boost in Sinai military presence as an opportunity to arrest human traffickers and liberate hostages from the region’s numerous torture camps. Only a policy that includes a focus on human trafficking would truly put an end to Sinai’s era of lawlessness, crippling an inter-state smuggler economy and saving hundreds of lives along the way.
Written by Laurie Lijnders