mercoledì 1 dicembre 2010

We write to draw your attention to, and to appeal for, urgent intervention

We write to draw your attention to, and to appeal for, urgent intervention in the appalling plight of hundreds of refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia who are currently held hostage in the Sinai Desert by Bedouin people traffickers. These people have been held for months on the outskirts of a town in Sinai in purpose-built containers. Their captors are demanding payment of up to US$8,000 per person before releasing them, and are subjecting them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. They are bound by chains around their ankles, have been deprived of adequate food, are given salty water to drink, and have been tortured using extreme methods, including electric shocks, to force friends and families abroad to make these payments. The women in the group, who have been separated from the rest, are particularly vulnerable to severe abuse. Over the weekend the situation of these refugees appears to have deteriorated markedly. Hostages were branded like cattle, and on Sunday evening, three Eritrean men were reportedly shot dead after their families confirmed to the kidnappers that they were unable to meet the additional payments - the hostages had already paid US$2000. On Tuesday morning, three more hostages were reported to have died following a severe assault administered by the traffickers after a group of 12 attempted to escape. Hostages now report being beaten so badly that their backs are bloody and bruised. Due to a series of human rights crises, the Horn of Africa in general and the Sinai in particular have now become major centres for people trafficking by highly organized crime syndicates. In a harrowing report recently compiled in Israel,1 refugees recount the horrors that were inflicted on them at this purpose-built desert facility as traffickers attempted to elicit increasingly large sums of money from them, including systematic rape, electrocution, branding with hot metal, severe and sustained beatings and extrajudicial killing. In August, AFP news agency reported the deaths of six Eritreans on the Egypt-Israel border, four of whom were killed in a dispute with people smugglers. In June, ten African refugees, including Eritreans, were reportedly killed by human smugglers in Sinai after they had been held for more than two months in these secret locations. We find it inconceivable that large numbers of people who entitled to protection under international law are being forcibly detained by criminal gangs for such lengthy periods of time and with seeming impunity within Egyptian borders, without any official intervention. We are aware that Egypt's record with regard to the treatment of refugees has not been a good one, with numerous reports of inhumane imprisonment and the often fatal shootings of refugees on the border with Israel. However, as current chair of the UNHCR's governing body and a signatory to the UN and African refugee conventions, Egypt has a duty to end this situation and to bring its treatment of refugees into line with international norms to which it is a signatory, while the international community has a duty to ensure that it upholds these norms. Moreover, the fact that the Sinai has now become a centre for people trafficking by organized criminal syndicates makes the fate of these and other refugees an international issue that key governments worldwide have a duty to address. The lives of hundreds of refugees hang in the balance. It is vital that key members of the international community make immediate and urgent representations with the Egyptian government to ensure that these refugees are rescued, and that every refugee in Egypt is afforded full protection and assistance. We therefore make the following urgent appeal: To His Excellency Hosni Mubarak, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt: To take urgent action to tackle organized crime by rescuing these hostages, bringing their captors to justice, and permanently closing these torture camps. It is also vital that Egypt brings its treatment of refugees into line with international legislation to which it is party, allows unhindered access to the UNHCR to all refugees, and ends practice of jailing of refugees, and shooting migrants on its border with Israel. To the British and Italian Foreign Ministers: to make urgent representations to the Egyptian government requesting swift action to ensure the safety of these refugees. To the European Commission and Council: To impress upon the government of Egypt in the context of the EU neighbourhood policy and political dialogue, the urgent need to rescue these hostages, to combat human trafficking, and to uphold its undertakings under international refugee conventions. The EU must also begin to earnestly address the root causes of migration2, and with regard to trafficking, to indeed do “everything in [its] power to target and fight this modern form of slavery”3 . To H.E. Mr. Sihasak Phuangketkeow, President of the UN Human Rights Council: To initiate an inquiry into human rights violations against these and other refugees in Egypt. Andrew Johnston Advocacy Director Christian Solidarity Worldwide Elizabeth Chyrum Director Human Rights Concern – Eritrea Mr Mussie Zerai Director Agenzia Habeshia per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo Matteo Pegoraro, Roberto Malini and Dario Picciau Co-Directors EveryOne Group 2 See e.g. The Stockholm Programme – An open and secure Europe serving and protecting the citizens, 2 December 2009. 3 Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s statement after the adoption of the EU agreement on fighting human trafficking, 24 November2010 A.H.C.S

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