Ethiopian immigrant's son held captive by Beduin in Sinai

70-year-old Beersheba resident says smugglers demanding $20,000 ransom or his son will be killed.

March 9, 2011 05:43
4 minute read.
Eritrean migrants in Sinai waiting to be smuggled

Eritrean migrants in Sinai 311 (R). (photo credit: Asmaa Waguih / Reuters)


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An Israeli NGO is asking for help raising money to pay the ransom for a son of an Ethiopian-Israeli who is reportedly being held by Beduin smugglers in the Sinai peninsula.

Daniel, a 70-year-old resident of Beersheba who immigrated to Israel alone in 1985, said Tuesday that he had last heard from his son two days earlier, when Beduin in the Sinai reportedly called and told him to send $20,000. Otherwise, they reportedly said, they would kill his son, whom Daniel said he could hear being whipped in the background.

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“I hear them beating him and burning him, and they’re yelling in Arabic, ‘Beat him! Burn him!’ Then they tell me that I need to send them $20,000 or they’ll kill him.”

Daniel said his 31-year-old son Benjamin had fled Eritrea for Sudan five weeks ago, after his second escape from forced conscription in the country’s army. In Sudan, he hoped to make his way to Ethiopia, where he would then try to make arrangements to immigrate to Israel. According to Daniel, when he reached Sudan, the smugglers who were supposed to help him make it to Ethiopia instead took him against his will to Sinai, where they handed him over to other Beduin believed to be running “torture camps” in the peninsula.

“I told him so many times, don’t ever believe anyone in Sudan,” Daniel said.

The distraught father said he hadn’t seen his son since he was five years old, when Daniel set off for Israel by himself, leaving his 11 children behind. He said he had married the children’s mother more than 30 years ago, when he was serving in the Ethiopian army in an area that would later become Eritrea after the two countries split in 1993. He and his wife later divorced, and eight of the couple’s children immigrated to Israel. Two others remain in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where they are citizens of their respective countries.

At a meeting of the Knesset subcommittee on foreign workers Monday, Daniel came to tell the story of his son’s imprisonment, but police forbade him to speak on the grounds that the case was still under investigation.

Daniel was accompanied by attorneys from the Israel Religious Action Center, which runs a legal aid center for immigrants.

A spokeswoman for the center said Monday that it had come forward with Daniel’s story this week, hoping the media attention would help it find donors to pay Benjamin’s ransom.

During the meeting on Monday, subcommittee chairman Ya’acov Katz (National Union) pointed an accusing finger at the entire world – particularly the Arab world – for, in his words, “completely ignoring and continuing to ignore the existence of the torture camps, rapes, sex trafficking, starvation, imprisonment, and organ trafficking, and remaining silent in the face of the crimes against humanity being carried out by Beduin with the compliance and on the territory of Egypt.”

Katz called on the United Nations to work to fight the torture and imprisonment taking place in the Sinai peninsula. He also called on human rights organizations in Israel and elsewhere to publicize in the Horn of Africa that it was illegal to cross the border into Israel, and urged them to spread word in those countries of the suffering inflicted upon African migrants in the Sinai.

In addition, he called on the government to provide assistance to those migrants in Israel who had been harmed during their journey.

According to a report issued by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel in late February, the majority of African migrants who report for treatment at a Jaffa clinic the organization operates say they were locked up against their will or subjected to repeated physical abuse during their journey to Israel.

According to PHR-Israel, 52 percent of migrants treated at the clinic in Jaffa said they had been subjected to physical abuse, and 44% reportedly witnessed violence and fatalities suffered by other migrants en route to Israel.

A week earlier, the Hotline for Migrant Workers released a report entitled “The Dead of the Wilderness,” which described beatings, rape, murder and extortion that African migrants have reported suffering at the hands of Beduin smugglers.

The report was the result of interviews the hotline conducted with 60 African migrants, mainly from Eritrea – 24 women and 36 men – who said they had suffered severe brutality on their way to Israel.

Reports have surfaced that the smuggling gangs use Eritrean and Sudanese collaborators in Israel, who help them extort the money from the relatives of their captives.

Last week, a 20-year-old migrant from Eritrea was convicted of conspiring with members of the Rashaida Beduin clan to extort money from the family members of African migrants held captive in the Sinai.

The migrant, Yunes Ariye, collected money from the captives’ family members in Israel and passed it on to the Beduin captors. Despite Ariye’s claims that he had not been aware of the captive’s conditions and that he had simply been a gobetween, the court determined that he had taken an active part in the transactions, warning the families that if they didn’t pay, their loved ones would be harmed or killed.

In one case, Ariye helped collect NIS 3,000 from an Eritrean migrant living in Israel to pay for the smugglers to release his niece. Ariye gave his phone to the uncle to hold so he could hear his niece being beaten in the background. Convinced that her life was in danger, the uncle agreed to pay.

Ron Friedman contributed to this report.

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