Egyptian authorities protect traffickers of Eritrean refugees in Sinai: HRW
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By AMIRA EL-FEKKI

CAIRO: The U.N. Human Rights Council has repeated its call to Egyptian and Sudanese authorities to address the issue of Eritreans refugees being held hostage and tortured by human trafficking groups in North Sinai, Human Rights Watch reported Monday.

“Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council called on Egypt and Sudan on March 14 to investigate and prosecute traffickers for kidnapping, torturing, and killing refugees in the Sinai Peninsula, [and] also called on both countries to identify and prosecute any security officials who may have colluded with traffickers,” HRW stated in its report.

On Feb. 11, HRW released a detailed report documenting the situation, including videos “in which victims told Human Rights Watch that Sudanese and Egyptian security officers facilitated trafficker abuses rather than arresting them and rescuing their victims.”

Meron Estefamos, a human rights activist and radio presenter in Sweden for Radio Erena (broadcasted from Eritrea), has been shedding light on the issue for years. “Every day Meron Estafamos answers her phone with an aching heart. From torture houses in Egypt, Eritrean hostages plead for ransom on a captor’s cell phone,” the Huffington Post reported on March12.

The victims have been subject to torture, beating, rape and mutilation over the past ten years, HRW said. The ransom is estimated between $33,000 and $35,000 for each person.

“In some cases criminals lured young Eritreans seeking asylum in Ethiopia into crossing Sinai instead, with a promise of better lives in Israel. They then kidnap them,” Estefamos told the New York Times in October 2012.

HRW further reported speaking to two traffickers who admitted to torturing their victims, especially when they are calling for rescue, so that calls’ receivers “could hear them scream.”

Despite the various reports and testimonies provided by human rights organizations including IRIN, the issue is not popular in the Egyptian media. HRW stated that Egyptian authorities have denied cases of torture and kidnapping most of the time, and have a limited track record of prosecution of traffickers.

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