Around 25,000 people have been victims of trafficking in the Sinai over the past four years, according to a new report by Prof. Dr. Mirjam van Reisen, Meron Estefanos and Dr. Conny Rijken presented last week to EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström. The report estimates that the trafficking industry in the Sinai has generated around €450 million in ransoms during the same period.
The report shows that the vast majority of the trafficking hostages in the Sinai are Eritreans. Eritrea is one of the most repressive African countries and it is estimated that around 5,000 Eritreans flee the country each month, many falling victim to criminal gangs and traffickers. The report exposes the involvement of the Eritrean government’s military Border Surveillance Unit in the repression, exploitation, smuggling and trafficking of Eritrean citizens. The report finds that there is also a close collaboration between Eritrean traffickers and Sudanese security, military and police officials, and Egyptian authorities also work with trafficking leaders.
The report highlights that hostages are extorted for extremely high ransoms, which are collected from their families, communities and in the diaspora. The hostages are brutally tortured and the physical and psychological injuries can incapacitate the survivors for the rest of their lives. Often, those who are not able to collect the ransom money are killed. “The last thing you want to do is to scream to your mum on the phone for money when you know they do not have any. But they torture you and you just have to ask for it”, stated Daniel Eyosab, an Eritrean survivor, during the launch of the report.
Furthermore, the survivors who cross into Israel face a set of severe measures, including detention under Israel’s Anti-Infiltration Law, and pushbacks at the Egypt-Israel border where a fence was constructed in 2012.
The authors call on all receiving countries, including Egypt, Israel, Libya and European countries, to stop the deportation of Sinai survivors to Eritrea or to other countries where they are at risk of subsequently being deported to Eritrea. Countries are also urged to prevent the detention of Sinai survivors and provide access to asylum procedures, as well as protection procedures for trafficking victims that include medical treatment, trauma and legal counselling.
Speaking at the launch, EU Commissioner Malmström announced that Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, will be soon publishing an assessment of trafficking in Sinai and recommendations for countering these practices. The Commission committed to putting pressure on Israel and Egypt to take steps to tackle trafficking in Sinai, to continue funding NGO-led projects in the region and to drive forward the implementation of Europol’s forthcoming recommendations.