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.
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

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs