NGOs Say Police Ignoring Sinai Human Smugglers' Accomplices in Israel

Organizations say smugglers have contacts in Israel demanding ransom payments by relatives and friends in Israel to free fellow migrants from Sinai detention camps.

Dana Weiler-Polak
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Dana Weiler-Polak

Israel is not doing enough to apprehend suspects within the state who are cooperating with human traffickers in Sinai who abuse and hold African asylum seekers for ransom, according to Israeli and international human rights organizations.

The organizations say the bands of 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a Sudanese refugee in 2011. Credit: GPO

The human rights groups say police have failed to act even in the face of specific information provided by the organizations about suspects involved in these activities.

Earlier this year, one of the organizations, Hotline for Migrant Workers, cited testimony collected during the previous year from 60 migrants recounting mistreatment upon reaching Israel, including torture at the hands of smugglers in the Sinai Desert. Now, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights, another Israeli group, joined forces with organizations abroad including Agenzia Habeshia of Italy and the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, to issue a report detailing what they say is official inaction here and abroad in dealing with the problem.

In July, the two Israeli organizations provided police with telephone numbers of 12 suspects living in Israel who were allegedly involved in human trafficking through the Sinai, in addition to the license number of a suspect's car. The human rights groups say police are yet to respond.

In August, the Hotline for Migrant Workers sent an email to the police detailing information that a suspect would be collecting ransom money from a contact in Tel Aviv. The organization said it sent the email after failing on multiple occasions to contact the appropriate police unit by phone. In the end, the ransom was reportedly paid, but the police never showed up to arrest the suspect.

Hundreds of would-be migrants seeking to make their way to Israel are being held by smugglers in Sinai. Some have been the targets of extreme violence, according to accounts of migrants who managed to reach Israel. In addition to demanding ransom for their release, there have been reports of migrants being subject to electric shocks, starvation and sexual abuse.

The police have not responded to Haaretz's request for a response. In a report on the problem issued earlier this year based on the testimony of migrants who had made it to Israel last year, the Hotline for Migrant Workers reported: "According to some of the testimonies, several victims were either murdered by the traffickers or were starved to death. Some 18 separate testimonies report that during the summer of 2010, 18 men were forced into slave labor, the majority of them building a three-story house for ... two of the traffickers. ... The victims report not just physical abuse, but also psychological torture and humiliation. ... Seven of the victims reported that the traffickers threatened to sell their organs for transplant."

Last week it was reported that five people being held by smugglers died when they were electrocuted.

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