CAIRO: Government bodies must act immediately to rescue hundreds of African migrants being held hostage, and abused by people traffickers in Sinai, 11 Egyptian NGOs said Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Dec. 9 that six Eritrean nationals were shot or beaten to death by traffickers. One hundred and fifty Eritreans are being held for ransom in about 10 underground rooms, two migrants held by traffickers told HRW.
In its statement HRW described a “sizable network” smuggling sub-Saharan migrants through Egypt to Israel that has been in operation since 2007. Traffickers ask migrants for $2,500 to $3,000 in return for guiding them to the Israeli border.
Writing in the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Khataza Gondwe, a research and advocacy officer for sub-Saharan Africa with NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide, described the “appalling abuse” migrants are subjected to.
“They are bound by chains around their ankles, deprived of adequate food, given salty drinking water and tortured using extreme methods including branding, electric shocks and "whipping rituals", in order to force friends and families abroad, who are contacted by satellite telephone as the torture is occurring, to make these payments. In addition, women are held separately and subjected to sustained, systematic rape by numerous assailants”, Gondwe wrote in a post published on Dec. 9.
Allegations of rape were corroborated by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel who reported that their staff have begun to notice “a growing trend of [sub-Saharan African] women, recently freed from detention, seeking abortions”.
The group said that it suspected half of the 165 abortions its clinic facilitated between January and November 2010 were “requested by women who were sexually assaulted in Sinai”.
In addition to sexual abuse HRW wrote that migrants are forced to perform manual labor for 8-12 hours a day. The NGO refered to an account published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz of 50 to 70 migrants being held in metal containers, leading to the death of some of them through dehydration.
Migrants also reported being given very little food during their captivity and only received “salty water” or water contaminated with fuel residues.
In statements published on Dec. 14, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki dismissed the reports as being authored by “suspicious groups” who are conducting “media campaigns aimed at inciting public opinion in European countries”.
The Egyptian authorities have not received information corroborating media reports, Zaki was quoted as saying by the state news agency.
“We urged anyone with information to present it to the Egyptian authorities. … No-one presented any information. … It appears that the matter is bigger than just media hype, and that suspicious groups are behind it”, Zaki was quoted as saying.
The 11 signatory NGOs of the statement issued Tuesday called on governmental bodies to end their “irresponsible denial” of reports and act immediately, adding that the Counter Human Trafficking Law passed in May obliges the government to punish the criminals involved and protect their victims.
Both the executive statute of the Counter Human Trafficking Law and the law itself oblige the criminal investigations administrations, state security investigations bodies and the police to actively seek out human trafficking crimes, the statement said.