Report details horrors of human trafficking in the Sinai

Presented in Rome; thousands of refugees tortured, held hostage

11 December, 15:20

    (by Luciana Borsatti)(ANSAmed) - ROME, DECEMBER 11 - The report 'The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond' was presented in Rome on Wednesday in the presence of Chamber of Deputies Speaker Laura Boldrini. Through interviews with some of the thousands of refugees from the Horn of Africa abducted and held for ransom in the Sinai Peninsula, the report seeks to ''understand the motives and mechanisms that drive the refugees, as well as the perpetrators, and to identify potential solutions''. The report stresses from the very first lines that the world should be made aware of the fact that millions of people are fleeing violence, extreme poverty or ethnic cleansing, or are victims of human trafficking for the purposes of being exploited or forced into slavery, or have been abducted for ransom. The 223-page report has been illustrated in Brussels and was authored by Miriam van Reisen, director of the Brussels-based Europe External Policy Advisors, the journalists Meron Estefanos and Alganesh Fissehaye, head of the Ghandi NGO, and was contributed to by many people, including Mussie Zerai of the Habeshia agency, which works in Italy and Switzerland. ''The Western world,'' underscored the report's authors, ''speak of people drifting from one place to another as a threat'' to their own security and prosperity, but then sometimes, ''suddenly, the same people are described as victims of tragic circumstances - as if these circumstances were not part of a world that we also constantly play a part in creating.'' These changes in the viewpoints of Western public opinion occur especially after tragic incidents, such as the October 3 shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa in which almost 400 people died who had weighed anchor to seek asylum in Europe.

    The report is available on the EEPA website and tells of how, since the beginning of 2009, thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa have been taken hostage in the Sinai desert. They include men, women, children and infants fleeing from desperate circumstances in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. An estimated 95% are from Eritrea. Smuggled across borders by middlemen, or kidnapped from refugee camps in Ethiopia and Sudan as well as their surrounding areas, the authors of the report say, they are held close to the Israeli border in inhumane conditions and tortured for ransoms up to USD 50,000. Many of them die during their time in captivity or even after the ransom money has been paid, while others ''simply disappear''. The stories told by survivors of the Sinai inferno were collected and published in a 2012 report. However, ''refugees continue to be abducted and held in Sinai, with increasing numbers being taken from within their own country. Even after release from captivity the future remains uncertain for the refugees. They risk further abduction, detention by the authorities and potential repatriation to their countries of origin,'' say the authors, or a possible death in the Mediterranean.

    The 2013 report looks at the reasons behind the hellish downward spiral that trafficking victims fall into, the policies of African authorities as concerns refugees and the impact on European ones on the issue of immigration and seeks to identify possible solutions. The report concludes with recommendations to European authorities and those of the countries involved. Egypt is asked to put an end to impunity for traffickers and hostage-takers, detention that fails to distinguish between victims and perpetrators of human trafficking, and deportations to Ethiopia and Eritrea. Libya, Israel and all European countries are also asked for commitments against deportation and ''push-back'' policies at sea and on land (such as at the separation barrier between Israel and Egypt) and against the ''outsourcing'' of border control. The authors of the report ask the European Commission to ensure that directives for the protection of human trafficking victims be applied, even when it occurred outside of Europe; that short-term stay permits be issued to survivors who cooperate with the authorities; and that refugees be distributed in a more balanced manner among member states. The The UN Security Council is also asked to bring in heavier sanctions against Eritrea, which is asked to make use of international cooperation to ensure respect for human rights of all citizens and for which an appeal is made to halt all foreign aid for until unlimited compulsory military service be abolished. A request is also made for a case to be opened on the matter at the International Criminal Court. (ANSAmed).

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