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Kidnappers Target Refugees in Sudan

Sudan - South Sudan map
Sudan - South Sudan map

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Joe DeCapua
Amnesty International says refugees and asylum seekers are being kidnapped in Sudan and held for ransom in Egypt’s Sinai desert. Most of those abducted are Eritrean and many have been beaten, raped or killed.


The human rights group says the kidnappings have taken place over the last two years in eastern Sudan, in-and-around the Shagarab refugee camps and along Sudan’s borders with Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Claire Beston, Amnesty’s Eritrea researcher, has been gathering testimony on the human trafficking.

She said, “The kidnappings usually take place by groups of men, who are often armed, according to reports of victims and witnesses. And people have been kidnapped in a range of situations – traveling between the camps, traveling to the local town, going or coming back from church – are some of the locations in which kidnappings are reported to have happened.”

There’s evidence indicating who the kidnappers are.

“Previous victims and witnesses frequently report that members of the Rashaida tribe, the local tribe, are involved in the kidnappings, but there are also a number of allegations of actors being involved, which include frequent reports of the involvement of corrupt members of the Sudanese security forces,” said Beston.

The vast majority of the kidnap victims are Eritrean, but there are also some Ethiopians and Sudanese.

“Former victims have reported that they are sold between different groups on the route to Egypt. In Sudan, they’re sold between different Rashaida groups, according to the testimony that we’ve received. And then usually, when they get into Egypt, or at the Egyptian Border, they are sold-on to Bedouin criminal gangs,” she said.

Once in the Sinai, the victims are forced to call family or friends with ransom demands. The kidnappers usually demand between $30,000 and $40,000. Beston said that the kidnap victims are abused while in the Sinai.

“They’re subjected to a range of really brutal treatment and violence, including rape and sexual violence against men and women, beatings, burning with hot metal and plastic. Electric shocks are used against victims. Having gasoline poured on parts of the body and then set alight. Also while held captive in the Sinai, they can be deprived up food and water and sanitation and the ability to wash and go to the toilet regularly.”

The Amnesty International researcher said ransom has been paid in a large number of cases. But there are also cases of people being killed when their families could not afford to pay.

It’s unclear just how many people have been kidnapped. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says in 2012 its office in eastern Sudan received 30 to 50 reports a month.  However, this figure only represents those who managed to avoid capture. Meanwhile, a leading Eritrean activist said that she’s spoken to over 2,000 kidnap victims.

Amnesty wants the Sudanese and Egyptian governments to act.

“What we as Amnesty International are calling for is that those governments take urgent steps to end the kidnapping in eastern Sudan – including putting significantly improved security measures in place in the refugee camps in eastern Sudan -- and for the Sudanese authorities to investigate the allegations of involvement of members of the Sudanese security services – and where relevant and appropriate to bring people to justice,” said Beston.

It calls on the Egyptian government to urgently investigate reports of people currently held captive in the Sinai. Many of those who are eventually released are helped by Israeli humanitarian agencies.

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