refugees - Tali Meyer - November 29 2010
Woman from Eritrea with a young child and a two-week-old baby evicted from their apartment by the local government. Photo by Tali Meyer
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African asylum-seekers are being held captive, tortured and raped in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where thousands of dollars are being demanded in ransom by their captors, a report released on Wednesday by Physicians for Human Rights.

A picture of horrific violence emerges from interviews conducted by the organization with over 100 refugees aged 19 to 66 that attempted to infiltrate into Israel. According to the report, the violence includes punching, slapping, kicking, and whipping.

23% of the respondents reported being burned with hot irons, electric shocks, and being hung in the air from their hands or feet. Most of the refugees report that food and water were withheld from them and that they bore witness to violence and torture committed upon other refugees. 38% of the women report that they were sexual assaulted by their captors.

In the wake of the report's release, Physicians for Human Rights has called upon the international community to engage the Egyptian government in order to free the captive asylum-seekers, and to engage the Israeli government in order to provide for the physical and psychological needs of the asylum-seekers currently living in Israel.

Refugees being held in steel containers

The investigation into the outrages began after eyewitness reports began to filter in at the Physicians for Human Rights infirmary in Israel that serves refugees and immigrants. In the last several months, the doctors became aware of the increasing incidents of refugees requesting abortions. In conversation, they confessed that they had been raped on the way to Israel.

According to other testimonies by relatives of the captives, about 220 people are currently being held against their will and being tortured at a camp in the Sinai. The captors are demanding ransoms of $8,000 for the release of each of the captives.

These reports and others convinced Physicians for Human Rights to compile a questionnaire that would be presented to refugees that arrive at the clinic. From these interviews, it emerged that groups of asylum-seekers that were promised passage into Israel, mainly from Eritrea, were held in steel containers or special containment facilities.

The smugglers then phone the relatives of the refugees, allowing them to hear the tortured screams of their family members. Ransoms are then demanded of them in exchange for continued safe passage to Israel.

Because of the large sums of money demanded, it often takes the family members weeks, even months, to accumulate the ransom money and send it to the captors. During that time, the captives remain in the desert, with the women separated from the men and from each other, where they are repeatedly raped and beaten by their captors.