News / Africa

    Eritrean Refugees Tortured for Ransom in 'Silent Tragedy'

    FILE - Refugees are seen during a visit by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres to the Shagarab Eritrean Refugees camp at Kassala, Sudan, January 2012.FILE - Refugees are seen during a visit by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres to the Shagarab Eritrean Refugees camp at Kassala, Sudan, January 2012.
    x
    FILE - Refugees are seen during a visit by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres to the Shagarab Eritrean Refugees camp at Kassala, Sudan, January 2012.
    FILE - Refugees are seen during a visit by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres to the Shagarab Eritrean Refugees camp at Kassala, Sudan, January 2012.
    Hannah McNeish
    Trafficking in Africa has long been a problem, from drugs and minerals to ivory and people. A new type of trade involving Eritreans fleeing the regime at home, however, has led to new tales of horror. Kidnapped in Sudan and sold into Egypt, Eritrean refugees reportedly are being tortured until families back home desperately search for the money to save them.
     
    When Meron Estefanos checks her phone, the list of missed phone calls is chilling. The Swedish-Eritrean human rights activist speaks to between 15 to 20 Eritrean refugees per day, many while they apparently are being tortured.

    She spoke out on the sidelines of the crime conference going on in Ethiopia.
     
    “As you are being tortured, they will call your family, your parents," Estefanos said. "I have talked to a mother, she was listening as her daughter was being raped by five men, and they were just saying, 'this is for you, this is for you., this is for you,' and the mother is just like… 'What can you do?' The ransom payments are a minimum of $30,000 up to $50,000. So when you have no other option, I mean you pay or you die. This has been happening since 2009 and the international community has been keeping a blind eye.”

    Rising 'torture trade'

    Since Israel stripped African refugees of their right to work there, and international donors gave the late Moammar Gadhafi money to try and stem the tide of migrants reaching European shores, Estafanos said a new “torture trade” has sprung up among former smugglers in Egypt’s Sinai province.
     
    Aid agencies say that about 3,000 Eritreans a month flee a harsh regime that has a “shoot to kill” policy for anyone trying to leave.
     
    The United Nations Refugee Agency says more than 250,000 Eritrean refugees and nearly 15,000 asylum seekers live across the Horn of Africa.
     
    The Eritrean government is alleged to make its people pay to leave, punishes families with penalties for “defectors,” and blackmails the diaspora into paying two percent tax on incomes.

    Targeting refugee camps

    Now, according to Estafanos and a number of international organizations, many of the Eritrean people are being kidnapped from refugee camps in Sudan and sold to Egypt’s Bedouin people via various clans.
     
    Estefanos - who also runs a radio show from Sweden that provides what she said is non-partisan news for Eritrea - said that some of the most horrific torture is being meted out while no one intervenes.
     
    “They would hang them like Jesus Christ for four hours a day, every day and they will gang rape the men and the women, they would force hostages to rape each other," said Estefanos.
     
    She said that thousands already have gone through the kidnappings and torture, and about 100 people now are being held.
     
    Alexander Rondos, European Union representative for the Horn of Africa, said this is a problem to which the world must wake up.
     
    “It’s rather difficult to understand why something as horrifying as this is going on other [than] to ask why I suspect, this might be a classic case of utter indifference,” he said.

    Global awareness needed

    Rondos said that word of what he calls this “silent tragedy” has to be spread throughout the world.
     
    “People need to get to know this story in all its horror. This is a form of slave trade. We invest tons of money to get rid of piracy, and this is a variant of piracy, but with even worse human consequences,” he said.
     
    Rondos said the fact that people are passing through several states, and the lack of action in stamping out this trafficking trade, suggests that “there are elements of collusion or corruption."
     
    Estefanos said this business is being run by about 25 families or "clans" and could be cleared up quickly. She said last year, when Egyptian forces went into Sinai to rescue a kidnapped British citizen, they found some of the detainees chained, beaten, starving and showing signs of torture, but did not free them.
     
    Sudan President Omar al-Bashir admitted at the Ethiopian crime conference that the kidnapping of Eritrean refugees was a big problem.
     
    Egyptian authorities under the fallen leader Hosni Mubarak also had pledged to help. But four years later, the ransoms are rising for some of the poorest people in the world.
     
    As her phone rang again, Estefanos expressed hope that soon, the stories that haunt her will disappear.

    You May Like

    US Watching as North Korea Opens Biggest Political Meeting in Decades

    As Workers' Party Congress opens, Washington anticipating possibility of another missile launch or nuclear test as top officials gather

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: dan bilardu from: USA
    April 24, 2013 11:04 PM
    Arabs are cruel and barbaric. I used to have symphathy for all that is taking place in their world, but hearing these stories, I just don't understand how evil and merciless they can be. And they call themselves Moslems and behave as though they pray to God. It appears the Egyptians are the major culprits in these atrocities, I wander what it will take to make them stop,,,,

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora