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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

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,,,,

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs