Eritreans in Sinai: a call from Italian NGOs

Urgent letter to the Ambassadors of Egypt: intervention request for refugees held hostage in Sinai

Your excellency Ambassadors of the Arab Republic of Egypt,

we write to draw Your attention to, and to appeal for, urgent intervention in the plight of refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia who are currently held hostage in the Sinai Desert by Bedouin people traffickers.

These people are reported to have been held for over a month on the outskirts of a town in Sinai in purpose-built containers. Their captors are demanding payment of US$8,000 per person before releasing them, and are treating them in an extremely degrading and inhumane manner. They are bound by chains around their ankles, have been deprived of adequate food, are given salty water to drink, and have been tortured using extreme methods, including electric shocks, to force friends and families abroad to make the payments. The women in the group, who have been separated from the rest, are particularly vulnerable to severe abuse.

Over the weekend the situation of these refugees appears to have deteriorated markedly. Hostages were branded like cattle, and on Sunday evening, three Eritrean men were reportedly shot dead after their families confirmed to the kidnappers that they were unable to meet the additional US$8000 – the hostages had already paid US$2000.

On Tuesday morning, three more hostages were reported to have died following a severe assault administered by the traffickers after a group of 12 attempted to escape.

Due to a series of on-going human rights crises, the Horn of Africa in general and the Sinai in particular have become a major centre for people trafficking by highly organized crime syndicates. In a harrowing report recently compiled in Israel, refugees recount the horrors that were inflicted on them at this purpose built desert facility as traffickers attempted to elicit increasingly large sums of money from them, including systematic rape, electrocution, branding with hot metal, beatings and extrajudicial killing. In August, AFP news agency reported the deaths of six Eritreans on the Egypt-Israel border, four of whom were killed in a dispute with people smugglers. In June, ten African refugees, including Eritreans, were reportedly killed by human smugglers in Sinai after they had been held for more than two months in secret underground locations. The smugglers are allegedly using extreme methods of torture, including electric shocks, to force the victims make the illegal payments.

We find it inconceivable that large numbers of people who are entitled to protection under international law can be forcibly detained by criminal gangs for such lengthy periods of time and with seeming impunity within Egyptian borders without any official intervention.

We are aware that Egypt’s record with regard to the treatment of refugees has not been a good one – there are numerous credible accounts of the imprisonment and mistreatment of refugees, and the shooting of refugees on the border with Israel. However, as current chair of the UNHCR’s governing body and a signatory to the UN and African refugee conventions, Egypt has a duty to end this situation and bring its treatment of refugees into line with international norms to which it is a signatory, and the international community has a duty to ensure that it upholds these norms. Moreover, the Sinai appears to have become a centre for people trafficking by criminal syndicates, and this makes the fate of these and other refugees an international issue that governments worldwide have a duty to address.

The lives of hundreds of refugees currently appear to hang in the balance. It is vital that that the You, as Ambassadors of the Arab Republic of Egypt, make immediate and urgent representations to the Egyptian Government to ensure that these refugees are rescued, and that every refugee in Egypt is afforded full protection and assistance.

We therefore ask You to report to Your Government the importance to take urgent action to tackle organized crime by rescuing these hostages, and bringing their captors to justice. It is also vital that Your Country brings its treatment of refugees into line with international legislation to which it is party, allows unhindered access to UNHCR to all refugees and ends the practice of jailing refugees and shooting migrants on its border with Israel.

Yours sincerely,

For the EveryOne Group, Mr. Roberto Malini, Mr. Matteo Pegoraro and Mr. Dario Picciau
For the Associazione Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII, Mr. Giovanni Paolo Ramonda
For the Habeshia Agency, don Mussie Zerai
For the Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mr. Andrew Johnston
For the Human Rights Concern – Eritrea, Mrs. Elizabeth Chyrum
NoirPink – modello Pandemonium
Wathcing The Sky Group
Anne’s Door Cultural Association

Fax and addresses

Y.E. the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Italy
Mohamed Ashraf Gamal Eldin Rashed
Villa Savoia
via Salaria 267 – Roma
Fax. 06/8554424 – 06/85301175
Email: ambegitto@pelagus.it

Y.E. Ambassador of the Arab Repubblic of Egypt in Holy See
Mrs. Lamia Aly Mekhemar
P.za della Città Leonina, 9 – Roma
Fax: 06/6832335
Email: ambegyptvatican@tiscali.it

CC:

Y.E. Ambassador of the Italian Republic in Egypt
Mr. Claudio Pacifico
15, Abdel Rahman Fahmy Str.
Garden City – Il Cairo – Egitto
Fax: +20 (0)2 27940657
E-mail: ambasciata.cairo@esteri.it

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