African migrants Sinai Reuters 25/12/10
African migrants inside a store iin Sinai, waiting to be smuggled into Israel. Photo by Reuters
Text size

Some 220 asylum seekers who were trying to reach Israel are being held captive by smugglers in Sinai, Egypt and are subject to rape and torture, according to a recent report published by Physicians for Human Rights.

The report comes around the same time the UN High Commissioner for Refugees released a statement saying it was seriously concerned for the lives of the asylum seekers in the Sinai.

PHR carried out interviews with over 150 refugees aged 19 to 66, who did manage to enter Israel and whose accounts paint a picture of severe violence endured over the course of their journey.

Many said they were slapped, punched, kicked and whipped; 38 percent of the women questioned said they had been sexually assaulted; and 25 of those surveyed said they had been burned, seared with white-hot iron, given electric shocks or hung from their hands or feet.

Most of those who spoke with the organization said they were denied food and that they witnessed violence toward and torture of fellow asylum seekers.

It was also reported that the smugglers would call their captives' relatives and make them listen to their loved ones scream under torture, demanding the families wire ransom money without which they would not smuggle the refugees into Israel.

Physicians for Human Rights said that following the publication of this report, they are now calling on the international community to work with the Egyptian government to seek the release of the captive asylum seekers, and on the Israeli government to provide a response to the physical and psychological needs of the asylum seekers who are now in Israel.

In September, Haaretz reported similar testimony from asylum seekers who were held captive in Sinai and only released after paying ransom.