By BosNewsLife Africa Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)-- Eritrean hostages who are being held in Egypt's North Sinai Desert, near Israel, have appealed for international intervention after they were told they would be sold to organ traffickers if a massive ransom is not paid for them, Christian rights activists confirmed Wednesday, January 4.
"We have been beaten, tortured, humiliated in the most atrocious fashion. We have now received an ultimatum from our persecutors: if our families do not pay US$33,000 per head within 24 hours, we will be sold to clandestine clinics that traffic in human organs," the hostages were quoted as saying in an appeal distributed by the Italian non-governmental organization EveryOne Group.
It was not immediately clear how the group had obtained the appeal.
Many African refugees have organs removed from their bodies for sale, before being left to die, according to international news reports.
"We are calling on the civilized countries, religious people who abhor these atrocities, the United Nations and the European Union not to abandon us. If we had been Europeans or Americans, would you have left us in this terrible condition? We are young men and women who have fled from a country that persecuted us,” the hostages reportedly said.
MORE REFUGEES HELD
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a well-informed Christian rights group, told BosNewsLife that the hostages are among "hundreds of Eritrean refugees," including women and children, who it said "have fallen into the hands of human traffickers." Many, CSW added, "are still held hostage in purpose-built camps in the Sinai Desert."
CSW Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston told BosNewsLife in a statement that "it has been over a year since these hostage camps were brought to light." While in some cases people traffickers have even been identified, "these camps still exist, and the inhumane treatment of these refugees, along with the threat of organ trafficking, continues."
Christians are believed to be among them. "There they face harassment, extreme sexual abuse and torture until relatives or friends make extortionate payments to secure their release, " according to CSW investigators.
The hostages are among many Eritreans who "flee the repressive regime of President Isaias Afwerki at a rate of 1,000 people per month." Eritrea has one of the world’s worst human rights records, including stringent restrictions on religious freedom, CSW said.
Tens of thousands of Eritreans are thought to be imprisoned in the country’s detention facilities, including around 3,000 Christians, according to CSW and other estimates.
There is growing frustration about of the perceived lack of Egyptian will to tackl the hostage situation, Johnston explained. "We urge the Egyptian authorities to take effective action to end human trafficking within their borders, and to ensure that perpetrators of these appalling crimes are brought to justice."
The North Sinai region is dominated by Bedouin tribes and is a perennial hotbed of illegal activities, including weapons sales, smuggling and other activities. There has been concerns among rights groups that police and other Egyptian security forces have all but vanished from the region following the Egyptian revolution that toppled Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak in February last year.
Analysts say however a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt imposes limits on the Egyptian military presence there.
Last year, Egyptian and Israeli news reports said however that the Egyptian government had obtained Israel’s agreement for a temporary increase in troop strength there to address security problems.
Both countries have an interest in restoring order because of a pipeline through the area that carries natural gas to Israel from Egypt, which has been disrupted bombed on several occasions.