There are increasing reports that African refugees in Sinai are tortured,
assaulted, raped and held for ransom by smugglers hired to bring them from Egypt
to Israel, according to new data released Wednesday by Physicians for Human
Rights in Israel.
The group believes that there are now 220 refugees who
fled conflict, genocide, famine or torture and are being held hostage in Sinai;
of which 80 have been held for more than a month and 140 were taken hostage last
It called on the Egyptian government to find the hostages and
secure their passage to a third country.
PHR Israel heard of the 220
hostages from refugees in Israel and abroad. But it had already grown concerned
about increasing reports that smugglers hired to bring the refugees safely
through Sinai, were instead kidnapping them and holding them for
From October 12 to December 7, it interviewed 167 refugees who
had been kidnapped; including 108 men and 59 women ranging in age from 19 to 66.
Out of those interviewed, 133 were Eritreans and Ethiopians, while the remainder
were from Sudan, the Ivory Coast, Somalia, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo and Sierra
The interviews confirmed harrowing reports they had received,
particularly of instances where refugees were held in metal containers or in
“Captives undergo torture by burning or beating, as smugglers
call their relatives demanding the immediate transfer of funds to be guaranteed
transit to the Israeli border,” stated the report.
“Because of the high
ransom price, it often takes weeks or even months for refugees to be taken to
the border. It is during this time that women are separated from the group,
detained in secluded rooms and subjected to repeated sexual acts, abuse, and
rape at the hands of their captors,” said the report.
77 percent of
Eritreans and Ethiopians reported that, while in captivity, they were physically
assaulted, including punching, slapping, kicking and whipping.
of refugees from those two countries reported burning, branding, electric shock
and hanging by the hands or feet, said the report.
47% of Eritreans and
Ethiopians reported seeing others beaten or tortured, 94% were deprived of food
and 74% were not given water.
Victims’ families have been asked to pay
between $2,500- $3,000 to the smugglers, but PHR Israel believes that sum could
now be as high as $10,000.
Once they are released, the refugees are also
in danger from Egyptian borders guards who often “shoot to kill,” said PHR
Israel. Out of the 47 refugees interviewed who answered the question about such
shooting, 12 had been shot at, according to the report.
further claims that, in 136 cases in 2010, the IDF sent the refugees back into
Sinai, knowing that they were likely to be tortured or killed once they were
taken back into the desert.
That number is taken from an October letter
written by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’I, in which he said, “The IDF
operates according to the procedure agreed upon with the High Court of Justice,
subject to which each return is assessed on a case-by-case basis in terms of the
risk to the infiltrator’s life. The infiltrator is returned to the Egyptians
only if all criteria specified in the procedure have been met.”
to the letter, the IDF apprehended 9,809 infiltrators as of October of this
year, compared with 4,519 last year, out of which 261 were returned to
PHR Israel said it believed the number of refugees returned by the
IDF to Sinai is much higher.
“Refugees caught by Egyptian police either
in the desert or at the border face physical abuse, sexual violence,
imprisonment, and deportation back to their home countries,” said PHR
In Israel, some 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including
women and children, are held in prison facilities.
In its report, PHR
Israel called on the government to grant “social residency” status to asylum
seekers, so that they can access social services including health care. It
should also implement a more transparent and comprehensive system of Refugee
Status Determination as well as turn human trafficking protections into domestic
law, the report said.
In general, it said both Israel and Egypt should do
more to prevent the further suffering of refugees and to support the human
rights organizations that service them.