Majority of Asylum-seekers in Israel Are Seriously Abused in Sinai, Report Reveals

A Physicians for Human Rights survey reveals that most sub-Saharan Africans seeking refugee status in Israel suffer horrible violence at the hands of those that smuggle them into the country.

Dana Weiler-Polak
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Dana Weiler-Polak

Physicians for Human Rights published a report on Wednesday 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.

An East African refugee, February 25, 2008.Credit: AP

The organization accumulated the statistics from interviews that it conducted with 284 asylum-seekers between the months of October 2010 and January 2011.

Groups of asylum-seekers making their way to Israel via Sinai are held against their will by slave traders in torture camps in the area of El-Arish, the report said. The slave traders demand ransoms for their release.

In order to apply pressure on the relatives of the prisoners, the smugglers phone them and allow them to hear the screams of their family members. Ransoms are then demanded of them in exchange for their relatives' continued safe passage to Israel.

Abuses committed against the asylum-seekers include having food and water withheld from them, being slapped, punched and kicked, being buried in sand, being burned with hot irons, being shocked with electricity, being hung in the air from their hands or feet, and being sexually assaulted and raped.

The investigation into the violence began a year ago after eyewitness reports began to filter in at the Physicians for Human Rights clinic in Israel that serves 700 refugees and immigrants every month.

Gradually, the doctors became aware of the increasing incidence of refugees requesting abortions. In conversation, the asylum-seekers confessed that they had been raped on the way to Israel. The organization then drew up a questionnaire and began to present it to new arrivals at the clinic that enter Israel via Sinai.

The survey respondents revealed that 59% of them were held captive in crowded conditions or tied up to one another. 15% of the respondents still bear physical scars as a result of the tortures that they underwent.

44% of the asylum-seekers state that while held captive in the Sinai, they witnessed violence perpetrated upon other captives, sometimes lethal violence. 88% of respondents said that they were held under starvation conditions, deprived of food. 66% complained of having water withheld from them.

Officials in Israel are ignoring the problem and are preventing the issuing of residency status to the political asylum-seekers. The organization is calling upon the Health Minister to apply the National Health Insurance Law to the asylum-seekers residing in Israel, regardless of their civil status.

Similarly, they are calling upon the Social Affairs Minister to establish rights and responsibilities for the asylum-seekers, according to the National Health Insurance Law.

According to additional information obtained by Physicians for Human Rights from the organization Agenzia Habeshia (Abyssinian Agency), 190 citizens of Eritrea and Ethiopia are held in two torture camps in the Sinai. Their captors are demanding ransom payments of up to $10,000 in exchange for the captives.

Reports from these camps include accounts of mass sexual assault and gang rape. Physicians for Human Rights believes that there are several more torture camps just like this in northeastern Sinai.

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