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Hostages, Torture, and Rape in the Desert:

Findings from 284 Asylum Seekers about Atrocities in the Sinai


Physicians for Human Rights-Israel's Open Clinic volunteers treat about 700 status-less
persons each month. About one year ago, Clinic staff began to notice a steady growth in the
number of asylum seekers released from Saharonim prison asking for abortions.
Conversations with these women revealed that many of them had been raped in the Sinai
Desert, on their way to Israel.

On December 14th, PHR-Israel published a report describing the tormenting voyage of


refugees and asylum seekers from Egypt to Israel. This report was based on interviews with
first-time patients, many newly arrived in Israel. After its publication, our Open Clinic
volunteers continued interviewing and gathering information about the atrocities in the
Sinai. This report is a follow up on the previous one, based on 284 interviews and further
information collected by human rights activists and groups worldwide.

Naturally, the dramatic political events in Egypt affect the situation of asylum seekers
currently in Sinai. Recent reports by Release Eritrea, a refugee human rights group active in
Egypt, state that five prison facilities in Northeast Sinai have been evacuated and the
prisoners have been released without any identity papers. This organization maintains
contact with some of the released prisoners, which reportedly include around 200 Eritrean
and Ethiopian individuals. PHR-Israel has learned that several of these individuals have
already reached Israel. Others were re-incarcerated by Egyptian authorities. Regrettably, still
others were caught by human trafficking gangs and are now held in captivity awaiting their
release in return for ransom.

Agenzia Habeshia reports that some 190 Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees are now being held
captive in two torture camps in Sinai. The traffickers are demanding up to $10,000 ransom
for many of these captives. The shocking reports from these camps include testimonies of
wholesale violence and rape. PHR-Israel can reasonably assume that other such camps are
scattered throughout the northeastern part of the desert.

45.2% of PHR-Israel's Open Clinic


patients come from Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Analysis of the 284 interviews conducted
in the clinic show that asylum seekers
from these countries are subjected to
more violence than asylum seekers from
other African countries. Therefore, for
the purpose of this report, we have
analyzed only the answers of
respondents from these two countries.
59% of Eritreans and Ethiopians report being held under close guard and/or chained.
(Based on 220 respondents).

Thirty-six year-old T. from Eritrea: "The place we were held in was horrible. I was chain-
ganged together with three other people and we had to move together. I was treated like an
animal."

Two-thirds (66%) of 153 respondents reported severe thirst as they were denied water
during their captivity; 88% reported severe lack of food and starvation.

Twenty-three year-old H. from Eritrea: "I was in the desert for three weeks…. A total of 15
people in my group died of hunger and thirst…"

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52% of the respondents reported being subjected to violence, including punching,
slapping, kicking, and whipping. Other testimonies describe torture such as burial in the
sand, electric shocks, hanging by one's hands and legs, burning with white-hot iron bars,
prolonged exposure to the sun, and burning by various means. Some 15% of the
respondents have scars and marks of violence on their body as the result of physical abuse
experienced in Sinai.

Twenty-four year-old T. from Eritrea: "They tied me and beat me up every day. I have scars
all over my body – above the eye, on my back. They tied me feet upwards and beat me on the
heels. I broke an arm and several fingers. Since then, they did not heal so well. To me, Sinai
was hell on earth."

Out of 218 respondents, 44% reported that they witnessed acts of violence and/or the
death of fellow asylum seekers.

Twenty-four year-old K. from Eritrea was held for 51 days in Sinai: "Those who couldn't pay
were held in a container, tied in chains and beaten constantly. Four of those kept in the
container died, including children. We started out as a group of 12 people who arrived in
Sinai, and I know of only eight who made it to Israel. I don't know what happened to the
other four…"

The physical and psychological trauma experienced by many of the asylum seekers held
captive in Sinai often makes it difficult for them to share their victimization with others,
particularly in cases of rape and sexual assault. Shame and guilt regarding their suffering
are the main reasons most of our female respondents chose not to answer questions
about sexual violence.

M. an asylum seeker from Eritrea: "I was raped repeatedly in the Sinai under gun point over a
period of five months. I became pregnant as a result. When I arrived in Israel, I was sent to a
prison facility. I was depressed and threatened to commit suicide if they wouldn't let me have
an abortion. When I was released, I went to PHR-Israel's Open Clinic."

Despite repeated reports about the suffering of asylum seekers victimized on their way to
Israel, the State of Israel has yet to take any significant steps to promote the treatment of
these victims. We find the silence of the Ministries in charge of Health and Welfare
particularly exasperating, as they fail to take prompt action to ensure the health and
rehabilitation of these torture victims.

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PHR-Israel once more calls upon the Ministries of Health and Welfare to grant social
residency status to refugees and asylum seekers:
• The Minister of Health is hereby called upon to use his authority mandated in Article
56(A)(1)(d) of the Public Health Insurance Law to grant access to the public health
scheme to refugees and asylum seekers residing in Israel, regardless of their status. In
doing so, the Minister will give victimized asylum seekers access to the public health
system.
• The Minister of Welfare is hereby called upon to use his authority mandated in Article
378(B)(1) of the National Insurance Law to grant rights and duties to asylum seekers
residing in Israel.

These Ministries can affect significant change in the way Israel treats asylum seekers residing
in its territory. Granting political asylum seekers social residency is possible within a short
period of time and does not require the passing of any national legislation; instead, as
stated above, it only requires the application of the Ministers' current legal authority. Such
a move could protect and promote universal moral principles and enable asylum seekers
to realize their rights to health and dignity. Granting social residency will not resolve all the
issues involved in immigration to Israel, but it will certainly provide immediate relief to those
living amongst us, at least until Israel formulates a comprehensive immigration policy.

Since the previous report was published, momentous changes have swept Egypt, with great
promise for the future, but also severe uncertainty and fear for the lives of the Sinai captives
at the present. Clearly, the current political situation in Egypt requires sensitivity and
patience. Nevertheless, we must not forget that the situation of asylum seekers held captive
in Sinai is too terrible to allow for any further delay. PHR-Israel therefore calls upon
representatives of the international community to:

• Act with relevant Egyptian authorities to locate and free the refugees and asylum
seekers still held captive for ransom. Upon their release, we call upon the
international community to ensure a comprehensive solution to protect these
people that will include, among other things, safe passage to a third country.
• Act with the Egyptian armed forces to put an end to their practice of shooting
refugees crossing the border from Egypt to Israel.

For Further Information:


• Physicians for Human Rights-Israel's Website- Information Sheet from December 14,
2010
http://www.phr.org.il/uploaded/PHR_Information_sheet_refugees_sinai_Hebrew_1
4.12.10_1.pdf
• Summary of PHR-Israel's Activities on the Subject.
• Hotline for Migrant Workers Report "The Dead of the Wilderness" - Testimonies
from Sinai Desert "
http://www.hotline.org.il/english/pdf/Testimonies_from_sinay_122010.pdf
• The Website of Release Eritrea http://www.release-eritrea.com/
• The Website of Agenzia Habeshia http://habeshia.blogspot.com/

For further details, please contact Yael Marom,


PHR-Israel Spokesperson at: 052-5563485 media.phr@gmail.com