mercoledì 15 dicembre 2010

Refugees crossing Sinai subject to torture, rights group says

Tel Aviv - African refugees and asylum seekers crossing the Sinai desert on their way to Israel face torture, abuse and sometimes even rape at the hands of their Bedouin smugglers, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) said Wednesday. They also face the threat of being shot at the Sinai-Israel border by Egyptian border guards. And, if they make it to Israel, they may end up being detained, often for weeks, months, or sometimes even years. Otherwise, they are subject to a 'hot return policy,' whereby they are returned to Egypt within one hour to five days after crossing. According to a questionnaire PHR-Israel distributed to patients requesting treatment at its clinic in Tel Aviv, the refugees and asylum seekers reported physical assault from the Bedouin smuggling them to Israel, including punching, slapping, kicking and whipping. Significant numbers also said they were deprived of food and/or water. In addition, refugees and asylum seekers from Ethiopia and Eritrea also reported severe torture, including being burned or branded, receiving electric shocks, and being hung by the hand and the feet. Moreover, said PHR-Israel, many women have told doctors at the organization's clinic that they were raped in the Sinai. 'Of a total of 165 abortions facilitated by the clinic between January - November 2010, PHR-Israel suspects that half were requested by women who were sexually assaulted in the Sinai,' PHR-Israel said. The organization quoted accounts from the asylum seekers and refugees detailing how groups of approximately 200 to 300 Eritreans are brought to Sinai, where they are held in metal containers or compounds, where they undergo torture by burning or beating as the smugglers call their relatives to demand immediate funding for guaranteed transit to the Israeli border. Because of the large amount of money demanded, it can often take weeks or months for the refugees to be taken to the border. 'It is during this time that women are separated from the group, detained in secluded rooms, and subjected to repeated sexual abuse and rape at the hands of their captors,' PHR-Israel said. At the Sinai border, Egyptian guards often employ a 'shoot to kill' policy. Refugee groups complain that, in the last year, the border guards have become more ruthless, injuring and killing more refugees than in the past. And if they make it over the border, the refugees are sometimes returned almost immediately when the Israeli army employs a 'hot return' policy. Some 136 refugees were 'hot returned' to the Sinai in 2010, according to Israel Ministry of Defence figures quoted by PHR- Israel. 'Based on patient testimony, we have reason to believe that the actual figure is much higher,' PHR-Israel said. Refugees returned to Egypt face deportation to their countries of origin. Those caught by the Egyptian police at the border or in the desert face physical abuse, sexual violence and imprisonment. Those who cross into Israel and are not 'hot returned' are detained at one of two Israeli detention facilities. Approximately 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including women, small children and accompanied minors, are currently in Israeli prison facilities, PHR-Israel said. The organization called on the international community to press the Egyptian government to find and release the refugees and asylum seekers currently held in the Sinai, and called on Israel to take responsibility for those who are currently within in its borders, including granting them 'social residency' status which would allow them to access special services such as health care and rehabilitation.

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