Human trafficking, infernal cycle in the Sinai

Thousands in 'torture houses' in the desert, $600m business

12 December, 11:48

    The cover of the report The cover of the report "The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond"

    (by Luciana Borsatti) (ANSAmed) - ROMA - The boy on the cover is named Berhan: he was only 15 years old when he left Eritrea, and at 16 he found himself in a "torture house" in the Sinai Peninsula, like thousands of other Eritreans who are tortured and raped on a daily basis to extort ransom from their families. For Berhan, the price was $38,000. He then ended up in an Egyptian prison, where he himself had to pay for his forced repatriation. That's when he escaped to Libya, where in the detention camps he encountered more rapes and more torture. At that point he boarded the ship that sank on October 3 off the coast of Lampedusa, where 366 Eritreans died.

    Berhan's story is an example of the vicious cycle of human trafficking recounted in the report "The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond," presented in Rome on Wednesday at the Chamber of Deputies by its authors --university professor Mirian van Reisen, journalist Meron Estefanos and president of NGO Gandhi, Alganesh Fissehaye -- together with Father Mussie Zerai of the Italian Habeshia Agency and Deputy Emilio Ciarlo of the Democratic Party (PD).

    Refugees, the majority of whom are Eritrean (according to the CIA, 5,000 escape each month) remain trapped in this cycle for years. Often kidnapped from refugee camps in Ethiopia and Sudan, they are then sold and resold by the traffickers (frequently with the complicity of local authorities) and then held in the Sinai as merchandise for ransom. In order to push families and friends to pay ever-higher amounts, victims are systematically tortured and raped live over the phone, so that those at home can hear their screams; if they die, families aren't told so that they still pay.

    The report, previously presented in Brussels, revealed that between 2009 and 2013, there were between 25,000 and 30,000 victims of human trafficking in the Sinai, from deaths and disappearances to survivors and kidnap victims. According to the report, the trafficking operation has grown into an organized business totaling $600 million in five years, and is managed by the Bedouins of the Sinai. Alganesh Fisshaye, who is based in Milan, said many indicators point to collaboration in Gaza, connected to the border town of Rafah by a series of underground tunnels, and with jihadists creating havoc in the Sinai. These jihadists are now at war with the new Egyptian authorities, whose attacks on militants end up disrupting trafficking operations that have been mainly ignored by both ex-Egyptian President Morsi and his predecessor Mubarak. Fisshaye, a doctor of Eritrean origin, said that her NGO, Gandhi, has freed 1,800 prisoners from Egyptian prisons and assisted 400-500 refugees to escape from "torture houses" with the help of a local Salafi, Sheikh Awwad Mohamed Ali Hassan.
    Fisshaye said, "The traffickers know they can't attack Hassan, while I've been threatened more than once."

    Egypt has a law against trafficking, but traffickers often go unpunished and survivors don't have access to asylum procedures.
    Israel has put up a barrier along the border and has taken the line of "violent send backs" to Egyptian territory or of detaining the refugees in the so-called "open facilities" in the desert.
    In Libya, in addition to the violence in the detention camps, there is no access to legal assistance. Deputy Ciarlo underscored the need to review previous agreements with Tripoli,  to update Italian regulations regarding asylum and above all so that Italy "can rebuild its strategy with the Horn of Africa," where it can still play a role.

    Miriam van Reisen said that while Italy's Operation Mare Nostrum works at saving lives, Europe isn't yet on the right track following the October 3 tragedy. She highlighted the latest indicators showing increased "militarization" including a consolidation of Frontex and the use of drones, and "outsourcing" to North African countries, which don't target the roots of the trafficking problem. The victims aren't escaping to find work in Europe but refuge in other African countries, she also underscored. (ANSAmed).

    © Copyright ANSA - All rights reserved