30,000 trafficked in Sinai

30,000 trafficked in Sinai

A guest post from contributor Parastou Hassouri, who lives in Cairo, works in the field of international refugee law, and specializes in issues of gender and migration.

On Wednesday night, the report The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond, was launched in Cairo (it was launched simultaneously in several other cities including Tel Aviv, Brussels, and Lampedusa). The 238-page report is based on interviews with 230 trafficking survivors:  persons who survived the hellish ordeal of being kidnapped, held hostage and tortured brutally in the Sinai. It is a follow-up to a 2012 reportHuman Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees between Life and Death

I was first alerted to the issue of human smuggling and trafficking in the Sinai around 2007.  At the time, I was working at the NGO Africa Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA).  The issue most often came up when we had to assist those who had been apprehended trying to reach the Sinai (and would be detained by Egyptian authorities, even if they were registered with the UNHCR as refugees). Back then, most of the cases we dealt with involved refugees who were voluntarily crossing the Sinai in hopes of reaching Israel, where they expected to find more work opportunities and perhaps an easier way of reaching Europe. Our biggest concern was the fact that Egyptian authorities in the Sinai were using lethal force to stop this “irregular migration,” which had resulted in numerous fatalities. There was a belief, at the time, that the Egyptian authorities were only responding to pressure being placed upon them by Israelis to stem the flow of migrants. I remember spending a lot of time advising clients against making the journey, telling them the risks were not worth it (especially as so many of them faced detention once in Israel anyway).

Over the course of months, we started to hear about situations involving hostage taking: that the smugglers who had promised to take the refugees, asylum seekers or other migrants to the Sinai would inform them mid-trip that they were being kept hostage until they could pay them more money than initially demanded.  However, the situation was one that still started out “voluntarily”:  the migrants were choosing to undertake the journey, despite the risks. The numbers choosing this route seemed to increase as the number of refugees being resettled to third countries (i.e. the U.S. and Canada) declined (this started during a period when the resettlement of Iraqis had taken priority for political reasons).The people going were from different countries:  Sudan, Ethiopia, and often Eritrea. I once assisted two men from the Ivory Coast who had been detained after being abandoned by their smuggler, when he realized he had no chance of getting more money out of them. Looking at the turn things have taken, those men are lucky they lived. 

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The plight of Eritreans in Egypt

This post is by occasional contributor Dalia Malek, who works on refugee issues in Egypt and whom we hope will continue to provide insights into refugees and migration as well as Egyptian politics. You should also watch Channel Four's recently aired documentary looking at Eritreans in Sinai who tried to sneak into Israel.  

Asylum seekers and refugees in Egypt face a threat of deportation to countries where they risk persecution. This violates the cornerstone of international refugee law that prohibits such deportations—the principle of non-refoulement.

Refugees in Sinai have attracted media attention because Egyptian authorities have caught, arrested, shot, or even killed an increased number of those attempting to illegally cross the border from Egypt into Israel.

Others in Sinai have been kidnapped or held hostage by smugglers or traffickers who may have deceived these mainly-Eritrean individuals into believing that they can assist them with entering Israel for a high enough price. There are reports that they have led them as far as Sinai and then held them hostage until they can provide more money; in the meanwhile, they are subjected to torture, rape and other sexual abuses

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