A victim of torture in the Sinai Desert. PHOTO | HOTLINE FOR MIGRANT WORKERS |
By DALLIA MONIEM in CairoPosted Friday, March 2  2012 at  15:51

They’re promised a safe passage to their destination in return for a hefty sum to help them escape to what they believe is a better future. The reality is; many African migrants crossing the Sinai Desert face torture, captivity and being held for ransom until their families pay the exorbitant money demanded – or they die.

With Europe tightening its borders and making it exceedingly difficult to slip through, many African migrants were looking to Israel as an option. With a relatively sound and stable political, social and economic life, the Jewish state appeared the best choice for those seeking to escape the hardship in their own countries.

But with the continuing political instability in Egypt, the Sinai Desert had become the playground of smugglers, who manage to evade capture by the authorities and to extend their torturous tactics on their captives, through such means as rape, electrocution and beatings.

African migrants, mainly Sudanese and Eritreans, both Muslim and Christian; were caught between a rock and a hard place. The hardship and difficult life they lived in their own countries forced many to take the steps of migration, usually via dangerous methods, to escape the extreme poverty, conflict and political suppression.

Reportedly, some 50,000 Africans had entered Israel in recent years with the aid of smugglers, mainly nomadic Bedouin tribesmen in the Sinai Desert, whose knowledge of the rugged terrain gave them the advantage. The Bedouins offered their ‘services’ safe in the knowledge many were too desperate to risk their lives and pay the exorbitant prices demanded.

 The trade in human cargo had always been lucrative, but with Israel speeding up the construction of a border fence, smugglers had jacked up their prices.

Various human rights groups reported that due to construction of the fence, migrants were becoming even more determined to reach Israeli borders before it became near impossible, resulting in smugglers meting out harsher torture methods as well as more money being demanded as payment – as much as $40,000.

Asylum seekers

According to Elizabeth Tsurkov of Hotline for Migrant Workers: “In recent months, the rate of arrival of African asylum seekers has increased. On average, about 2,000 people enter Israel through Sinai each month. It is hard to estimate the exact percentage of asylum seekers who undergo abuse, but it is safe to say that a large number of asylum seekers go through the torture camps of the smugglers in Sinai.”



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