Monday, April 1, 2013

Trafficked Eritrean refugees face “brutal violence” - Amnesty - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan


March 31, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - There are ongoing reports that asylum-seekers and refugees kidnapped from camps on the Sudan-Eritrea border are being subject to cruel and inhuman treatment at the hands of their captors, including rape, sexual abuse, beatings and burning.
In its latest briefing extended to Sudan Tribune, Amnesty International (AI) details the “brutal violence” inflicted on captives and used to extract large ransom payments from victims’ families.
According to reports, kidnappings are largely carried out by the local Rashaida tribe in coordination with other armed gangs operating in and around the Shagarab refugee camps in eastern Sudan, near the Eritrean border. Victims are then sold off to Bedouin criminal networks in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula for various purposes, including the extraction of their organs.
The vast majority of victims are Eritrean, fleeing political oppression and compulsory military service imposed by the dictatorial regime in Asmara.
Often described as the North Korea of Africa, Eritrea’s secretive and repressive state apparatus shows scant regard for human rights, imposing strict controls on personal freedom and a policy of mandatory military conscription often for indeterminate periods. The intolerable conditions in their homeland means many Eritreans continue to make the perilous crossing to neighbouring countries, despite the risk of kidnapping and death from the regime’s shoot to kill policy.
HARROWING TESTIMONIES
In testimonies gathered by AI, captives reported the horrific violence perpetrated by their captors, which included repeated rape, sexual abuse, beatings with chains, electric shocks, suspension from the ceiling by their feet or hands often for days at a time, burning with heated plastic and metal and being doused with gasoline and set on fire.
The captors reportedly telephone their victims’ relatives at the same while inflicting violence in order to extort money, often demanding ransoms of up to $40,000 for their release.
Refugees and asylum-seekers are often murdered if their families are unable to pay the ransom sum, while others die from their injuries or as a result of the extremely harsh conditions of captivity.
One Eritrean survivor described in harrowing detail to AI what happened to a fellow hostage who was “made an example of” because he said his family could not pay the ransom.
“He was bleeding all over. After more beatings, they poured petrol on him and set him on fire. After he died, they left his body in the room with us until it became rotten and worms started crawling. They forced all of us in turns to hold him”, he told AI.
Another survivor, a 17-year-old boy from Eritrea, who was seized by a group of armed Rashaida tribesmen on the outskirts of Kassala last January, told Amnesty he was tortured by his captors and witnessed the murder and violent treatment of other prisoners throughout his eight months of captivity in Sinai.
“Sometimes they would also put a wire on my fingers and give me electric shocks. During the torture, they make us call our families …They raped the women in front of us in the same room; it happened almost every day. Some of them [the captors] would tell us to look down, while they were doing it”, he said.
A recently published recording of an interview between Swedish-Eritrean radio journalist Meron Estefanos and an eight year old Eritrean girl, who is being held hostage in the Sinai with her family, further highlighted the chilling situation faced by abducted refugees.
During the phone call, which was recorded in February, the girl described being “beaten with sticks and fire” and being fed “one bread every two days.”
Her father says she has already witnessed the murder of two male hostages who died after being tied to the roof and electrocuted.
Her captors are demanding $40,000 for the release of her and her family and have threatened to on sell the girl to other criminal gangs, separating her from her parents, as well as force other hostages to publically gang rape her mother should the money not be paid.
KIDNAPPINGS ON THE RISE
Amnesty says it has continued to receive reports of kidnappings and of individuals who have gone missing from the Shagarab camps and surrounding area since early 2011, while the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says that its figures suggest kidnapping incidents in eastern Sudan have increased over the last two years.
In 2012, UNHCR said their eastern Sudan office in Kassala received reports of between 30 and 50 cases a month of people claiming to have been kidnapped at the border between Eritrea and Sudan.
Excluding unconfirmed cases, the UNHCR says it has documented the disappearance and kidnapping of 551 Eritrean refugees in 2012 alone - a more than five-fold increase from the previous year.
It says information remains difficult to independently verify and that the true number of kidnappings from eastern Sudan is likely to be considerably higher than official figures.
Rights groups have documented evidence that high-level officials from the Eritrean government, as well as members of Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) are often complicit in crimes carried out within the complex and well-organised trafficking networks.
AI has called on Egypt and Sudan to take “urgent and concerted” steps to end the kidnapping and trafficking of asylum-seekers and refugees from camps in Sudan, and bring those involved in the crimes to justice.
The organisation also urged Egyptian security forces to urgently investigate reports that refugees and asylum-seekers are being held captive in compounds in north-east Sinai.
“The Egyptian authorities have a duty to protect any individual on their soil, and must urgently take steps to free all people held captive and subjected to appalling abuses in Sinai, and provide them with immediate medical attention and access to asylum procedures and support,” said Claire Beston, Amnesty International’s Eritrea researcher.
AI says Sudan needed to do more to prevent kidnappings in and around the Shagarab camps, where safety and security provisions to protect its estimated 30,000 inhabitants remain grossly inadequate.
It also called on the Sudanese government to conduct prompt and impartial investigations into all allegations against members of the security forces and fast-track the passing of national anti-trafficking legislation, currently at draft stage, to establish trafficking as a criminal offence.
AI says countries along the trafficking route – extending from Eritrea through Ethiopia and Sudan into Egypt – must significantly improve national efforts to combat abuses against migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, as well as increase their engagement with international agencies working to tackle the crimes.
FORCED TO LEAVE
The majority of victims who were freed in Sinai are now in Israel, while some are in Egypt and Ethiopia.
The Israeli government has recently taken a hard-line stance against immigrants from Africa, seen as an economic burden and threat to national security. There have been reports that Eritrean asylum seekers were threatened with lengthy detention unless they agreed to depart voluntarily.
In its report, AI called on destination countries, including Israel, to “put in place transparent systems to identify victims of trafficking and other abuses, and provide victims with access to medical, psycho-social and rehabilitation services and to fair asylum procedures”.
According to UNHCR figures, an estimated 60,000 Eritreans have arrived at the reception camp of Shagarab since January 2010.

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