The majority of African migrants who report for treatment at a clinic in Jaffa operated by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel report being locked up against their will or suffering physical abuse during their journey here, the organization reported on Wednesday.
According to PHR-Israel, 59 percent of migrants treated at the organization’s Open Clinic in Jaffa said they had been held in physical restraints, 52% said they were subjected to physical abuse, and 44% reportedly witnessed violence and fatalities suffered by other migrants en route to Israel.
PHR-Israel said that migrants, most of them from Eritrea, are being held hostage by smugglers at “torture camps” in the El-Arish area of the Sinai Peninsula, while trying to make their way to Israel.
The smugglers reportedly hold them in such conditions until they can obtain thousands of dollars in ransom from their families.
According to PHR-Israel, the smugglers telephone relatives of the migrants and have them listen in while they use systematic violence against their loved ones in order to extort ransom from them.
“Survivors report the use of systemic violence, including punching, slapping, kicking and whipping. Forms of torture include burial in sand, electric shocks, hanging by the hands and legs, branding with hot metal, as well as rape and sexual abuse,” PHR-Israel said.
Beginning about a year ago, PHR-Israel’s staff “began to notice an increase in the number of female asylum-seekers coming to the clinic to request abortions. Open Clinic staff soon found out that many of the women were repeatedly raped in Sinai while on their way to Israel.”
As a result, the organization created a questionnaire that has been given to new patients in order to paint a picture of what they say they went through in Sinai.
From October 12, 2010, to January 30, 2011, PHR-Israel questioned 284 migrants, from which, in addition to physical imprisonment, “52% of the respondents reported that they were subjected to serious violence.
Approximately 15% have scars and signs of violence on their bodies from the torture they suffered in Sinai.
“In addition, 44% of respondents stated that they witnessed violence and/or fatalities of other asylum-seekers while they were in Sinai; 88% stated that they experienced severe hunger and food deprivation; and 66% reported that they were denied access to water.”
As a result of the findings, PHR-Israel has called on the Health
Ministry to grant migrants coverage under the National Health Insurance
Law, regardless of their status in Israel.
PHR-Israel on Wednesday cited a recent report by the Italian NGO Agenzia
Habeshia, which said that around 190 migrants from Eritrea and
Ethiopian were being held at two “torture camps” in Sinai, and that
smugglers were demanding ransoms of up $10,000 for each captive. This is
in addition to the thousands of dollars in smuggling fees the migrants
already pay to the smugglers before setting out for Israel.
In the wake of such revelations, PHR-Israel called on the international
community “to act in cooperation with the relevant authorities in Egypt
in order to locate and free refugees and asylum-seekers who are still
being held captive for ransom, to ensure that, after their release,
these individuals receive comprehensive attention and protection,
including safe passage to a third country.”
They also ask for the international community to launch a dialogue with
the Egyptian armed forces in order to put an end to their shooting of
migrants trying to cross into Israel from Sinai.
The PHR-Israel announcement comes a week after the Hotline for Migrant
Workers released a report titled “The Dead of the Wilderness” describing
the ordeals reportedly suffered by African migrants to Israel at the
hands of their Beduin smugglers in Sinai.
The report is full of descriptions of rape, torture, murder, extortion
and near-starvation that emerged from interviews the hotline conducted
with 60 African migrants mainly from Eritrea. The 24 women and 36 men
reported suffering severe brutality on their way to Israel.
When asked why the two reports had come out in such quick succession,
PHR-Israel executive director Ran Cohen said the group’s report was more
of a followup to a report it put out in December titled “Hostages,
Torture, and Rape in the Sinai Desert.” It stated that “out of 165
abortions facilitated by the clinic between January and November 2010,
PHR-Israel suspects that half were request by women who were sexually
assaulted in Sinai.”
Cohen said that in contrast to the Hotline report, “ours more looks at
the breadth of the phenomenon, which is very extensive.” He added that
“after the revolution in Egypt, we feel that it is very important to
bring this subject to the daily agenda of Israel and the international
community so that steps will be taken to fight it.
“After what happened in Egypt, it’s become even more difficult to get
there to deal with the issue, because right now there is no stable
government to speak of.”
When asked what his organization wants from the state, Cohen said: “Up
to today, the State of Israel hasn’t taken any steps to help or treat
these victims. We must seek a quick, meaningful solution and give them
social residency, acknowledging they have social rights in Israel
without deciding if they are refugees or not.”
Cohen said PHR-Israel wasn’t asking for the Interior Ministry to give
the migrants refugee status – rather, for the time being, “to give them
immediate health and welfare service without any connection to whether
or not they should be given refugee status.
“They’re here, and they are victims of terrible circumstances, and we must help them immediately,” he said.