By Human Rights Watch Press
Published February 12, 2014
Egypt and Sudan have failed to stop traffickers from kidnapping, torturing and and killing refugees, mostly from Eritrea, in eastern Sudan and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
In a 79-page report titled, I Wanted to Lie Down and Die: Trafficking and Torture of Eritreans in Sudan and Egypt, Human Rights Watch documents how, since 2010, Egyptian traffickers have tortured Eritreans for ransom in the Sinai Peninsula, including through rape, burning, and mutilation. It also documents torture by traffickers in eastern Sudan and 29 incidents in which victims told Human Rights Watch that Sudanese and Egyptian security officers facilitated trafficker abuses rather than arresting them and rescuing their victims.
“Egyptian officials have for years denied the horrific abuse of refugees going on under their noses in Sinai,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Both Egypt and Sudan need to put an end to torture and extortion of Eritreans on their territory, and to prosecute traffickers and any security officials colluding with them.”
The report draws on 37 interviews with Eritreans by Human Rights Watch and 22 by a nongovernmental organisation in Egypt. The people interviewed said they had been abused for weeks or even months, either near the town of Kassala in eastern Sudan or near the town of Arish in northeastern Sinai, near Egypt’s border with Israel. Human Rights Watch also interviewed two traffickers, one of whom acknowledged that he tortured dozens of people. The report also draws on interviews conducted by other nongovernmental organizations outside Egypt who have interviewed hundreds of torture victims, and on statements by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) relating to its interviews of hundreds of such victims.
The victims said the Egyptian traffickers had tortured them to extort up to US$40,000 from their relatives. All of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they saw or experienced abuse by the traffickers, including rapes of both women and men; electric shocks; burning victims’ genitalia and other body parts with hot irons, boiling water, molten plastic, rubber, and cigarettes; beating them with metal rods or sticks; hanging victims from ceilings; threatening them with death; and depriving them of sleep for long periods. Seventeen of the victims said they saw others die of the torture.
Relatives who heard the victims scream through their mobile phones said they collected and wired the vast sums of money the traffickers demanded.
Since 2004, over 200,000 Eritreans have fled repression and destitution at home to remote border camps in eastern Sudan and Ethiopia, dodging Eritrean border guards with shoot to kill orders against people leaving without permission. They have no work prospects in or near the camps and until 2010, tens of thousands paid smugglers who took them through Sinai to Israel.
By 2011, Israel had completed large sections of a 240-kilometer fence along its border with Sinai to keep them out. Since then, traffickers have continued to kidnap Eritreans in eastern Sudan and sell them to Egyptian traffickers in Sinai. Every Eritrean Human Rights Watch interviewed who had arrived in Sinai in 2012 said that traffickers had taken them from Sudan to Egypt against their will.
Human Rights Watch received new reports of trafficking from eastern Sudan to Sinai as recently as November 2013 and January 2014.
Eritreans told Human Rights Watch that Sudanese police in the remote eastern town of Kassala, close to Africa’s oldest refugee camps, intercepted them near the border, arbitrarily detained them, and handed them over to traffickers, including at police stations.
Some of the victims also said that they had seen how Egyptian security officers had colluded with traffickers at checkpoints between the Sudanese border and Egypt’s Suez Canal, at the heavily policed canal or at checkpoints on the only vehicle bridge crossing the canal, in traffickers’ houses, at checkpoints in Sinai’s towns, and close to the Israeli border.