African refugees Feb. 26, 2012 (Ilan Assayeg)
Eritrean and Sudanese refugees Photo by Ilan Assayeg
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Refugees from Eritrea are being kidnapped, tortured and killed in Sudan and Egypt, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. 

In a report released Tuesday in Berlin and based on interviews with dozens of victims, the watchdog group said some 200,000 Eritreans have fled their country since 2004, many trying to make their way to Israel across Sudan and Egypt.

Since Israel built a fence across its border with Egypt in 2012, the number of asylum seekers making it to their destination has slowed to a trickle, but attempts continue.

Human Rights Watch says refugees are commonly kidnapped, and their families extorted to pay for their release. They often then end up returned to Eritrea.  The organization has called on Sudan and Egypt to crack down on corrupt officials they say are colluding with traffickers.

African asylum seekers in Israel have routinely reported suffering abuse on their way to Israel; in 2011, Israeli-based Physicians for Human Rights published a report detailing the extreme hardship that asylum-seekers in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula experience while on their journey to cross into Israel.

Of the asylum seekers that were treated at the organization's open-door medical clinic, 59 percent reported that they were imprisoned during part of their journey and 52 percent said that they experienced serious violence. A coalition of human rights groups said the same year that bands of Sinai-based smugglers have contacts in Israel and have been demanding ransom payments from relatives and friends who have reached Israel to free fellow migrants from detention camps in Sinai.

Moreover, NGOs have warned that Egypt is likely to send Eritreans turned away from Israel back to their home country.

Last month, Haaretz reported that of the 1,800 asylum requests made by Eritrean and Sudanese nationals so far, only about 250 have been examined, of which about 155 were rejected.

Late January, however, saw the first refugee status granted to two Eritrean nationals, who were subsequently released from the detention center where they had been held since entering Israel.

Although Israel has chosen not to deport the Eritrean and Sudanese nationals collectively to their countries of origin, it is doing its best to make them leave. In addition to prolonged imprisonment, last month Israel established the Holot detention facility and began ordering the Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who live in the cities to report there within 30 days or face imprisonment. Israel also prohibits African migrants to take money or property out of Israel, and limits the sum that they may take with them when they leave. Recently, it also increased the amount of the grant it offers to those who agree to leave from $1,500 to $3,500 as part of the “voluntary departure” procedure.