Hotline for Migrant Workers recently published a report entitled Trafficking, Slavery, Torture and Rape Victims among Asylum Seekers on their way to Israel It details the suffering of the 12,000 people who were smuggled to Israel through the Egyptian border in 2010. Many Eritreans and Ethiopians, once reaching Egypt, were kept as hostages in inhumane conditions until a ransom was paid for their release by family members in wealthy countries. Some were told that they would be sold to organ traders if their relatives did not pay, claiming that they could get $25,000 for a kidney.  

Hotline for Migrant Workers has collected evidence from about 60 Eritreans who were victimised by smugglers in the Sinai Desert en route to Israel for periods ranging from four weeks to five months and often resulting with unwanted pregnancies from the constant rape. Torture camps were set up in the desert by persecutors who did not limit themselves to psychological torture, threats and rape: some of the Eritreans were murdered or starved to death. When some men in the group tried to stop young women from being raped, they were forced into chains and also raped. Some of the raped women testified that it became easier not to resist any more.

This living hell has become a business. The ransom amounts that are paid encourage the smugglers to raise their demands. The higher the sum, the harder it is for the family abroad to raise the money.  This results in an even longer period of imprisonment and torture for the asylum seekers many of whom die before or even after the ransom has been paid.

According to the testimony, the smuggling networks and the resulting torture and murder are orchestrated in Sinai by local Bedouins. There are several groups of smugglers aided by Eritrean, Ethiopian who act as mediators and are paid for their services despite formerly being asylum seekers themselves.  
The Egyptian authorities have done nothing to stop their citizens from committing these atrocities.

Last week HRCE wrote an article comparing the uprising against dictatorship in Egypt to the lack of action against equal totalitarian brutality in Eritrea. It seems that Egypt, too, has its collaborationist citizens - those who take advantage of the needy, the frightened, the helpless - and all for monetary gain.  None of this would be possible - in Eritrea, or the Sinai Desert - without outside collaboration, without people in and out of government choosing to turn a blind eye to human suffering because they can also make money.

Eye-witness testament is there for all to see, but the financial imperative seems to make those in Egypt, Israel, Eritrea and the outside world blind to suffering. Cynics might say that you can always pay half of the poor to kill the other half. But who’s paying them? And who stands to gain the most?
How does this desert nightmare begin for the Eritreans? What hell was so bad that they would risk their lives and allow themselves to be subjected to these horrors? It must be that when you already live in hell almost any alternative however dangerous seems better. First you have to survive drowning then you have to survive being shot at and then, half starved and without any possessions, you are weak enough, and desperate enough, to put yourself in the hands of anyone who seems to be offering even a shred of hope. In this way you can find yourself in a foreign country where you are again treated as less than human. Although it is not the first time, as Eritreans, that these asylum seekers have been maltreated it is coming on top of similar maltreatment in Isaias Afewerki’s Eritrea which has become a giant prison.

This Eritrean nightmare in the Sinai desert begun with Afewerki and can only end with his removal from power.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
London, U.K
4 March 2011