Home Have Your Say A PHR-Israel update about recently arriving asylum seekers

A PHR-Israel update about recently arriving asylum seekers

Monday, 27 December 2010 01:18
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Physicians for Human Rights-Israel is an organisation which runs an Open Clinic for status-less persons in Israel.  87 percent of its patients are African asylum seekers with a large majority of them from Eritrea and Ethiopia.  Its clinic is often the first place many refugees go to seek treatment from injuries and illness caused by trauma experienced in the Sinai desert.  Because of its unique position, PHR-Israel has been able to document the horrors of the Sinai and it is currently developing an international advocacy campaign to raise awareness among the international community to put an end to the human trafficking and torture in the Sinai desert. In support of this effort, assenna.com shares a variety of materials it has received from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.


Hostages, Torture, and Rape in the Sinai Desert:

A PHR-Israel update about recently arriving asylum seekers

Refugees and asylum seekers escaping conflict, genocide, famine, and torture face an extremely difficult journey. Thousands set out from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and other African countries in search of safety and protection, passing through Egypt, where their situation remains hostile and insecure. Once arriving in Israel, they are immediately detained, often for several weeks, months, and sometimes even years. As a first stop after detention, they find their way to the Open Clinic at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) in Tel Aviv-Jaffa to receive treatment for trauma or illness experienced along the way. PHR-Israel's Open Clinic is an open medical center operated by volunteer Israeli physicians who provide medical treatment to uninsured persons and engage in advocacy to the government to ensure better protection for refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrant groups.

In recent months, clinic staff began noticing a growing trend of women, recently freed from detention, seeking abortions. In conversations with our doctors, many women confessed to being raped prior to entering Israel. 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. During the same period, 1,303 women have been referred for gynecological treatment, here too, a large percentage as a result of the trauma endured in Sinai. Harsh experiences in the Sinai have also translated into an increased number of patients seeking rehabilitative services from our Open Clinic. In the first 11 months of 2010, 367 people required orthopedic treatment; 225 were referred for physiotherapy.1

To make sense of the growing accounts of torture, hostages, ransom, rape, physical and sexual abuse, PHR-Israel initiated a questionnaire posed to new patients arriving to Israel through the Sinai desert. Between October 12 and December 7, 2010, PHR-Israel interviewed a total of 167 individuals from Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sudan, the Ivory Coast, Somalia, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, and Sierra Leone, including 108 men and 59 women, ranging in age from 19 to 66.

Initial findings show that Eritreans and Ethiopians encountered pronounced harm, more so than any other group questioned and so for the purposes of this paper, their results have been analyzed separately. Because many of the female patients felt shame and guilt about their experiences, the vast majority of women chose not to respond to questions about sexual abuse.  Of the 13 women who agreed to answer such questions, 38% answered that they had been assaulted.2 Other than sexual assault, participation by women and in general in the survey was high; the following information is based on an average of 144 responses.  77% of Eritreans and Ethiopians reported physical assault including punching, slapping, kicking and whipping (compared to 63% of patients from other African countries).  23% of Eritreans and Ethiopians reported burning, branding, electric shock, and hanging by the hands or feet.  No patients from other countries reported this phenomenon. 47% of Eritreans and Ethiopians reported seeing others beaten or tortured.  94% of Eritreans and Ethiopians reported being deprived of food and 74% reported being deprived of water.  The phenomenon also occurred among other Africans, 80% were deprived of food and 53% deprived of water.

On November 19th, PHR-Israel initiated an in depth feature in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, entitled Desert Hell, telling about the now institutionalized torture and abuse endured by refugees, especially those from Ethiopia and Eritrea, in the Sinai on their way to Israel. According to repeated accounts, groups of approximately 200-300 Eritrean are brought to Sinai where they are held in metal containers or compounds. Captives undergo torture by burning or beating, as smugglers call their relatives demanding the immediate transfer of funds to be guaranteed transit to the Israeli border. Because of the high ransom price, it often takes weeks or even months for 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 acts, abuse, and rape at the hands of their captors.

On December 3rd, PHR-Israel received new testimony that leads us to believe the situation in the Sinai is growing significantly worse. Whereas victims were previously asked to pay between 2,500-3,000 USD3, additional sums are now required as ransom bringing the total amount paid to captors as high as 10,000 USD.4 According to the accounts we have received from sources close to the hostages currently held in the desert, approximately 220 people are currently being held by the smugglers in a camp in Sinai. The group of 80 individuals that arrived one month ago was joined last week by 140 additional asylum seekers en route to Israel.

The Egyptian- Israeli Border and Detention upon Entry

A careful, well thought-out, and comprehensive response is urgently needed. In addition to the immediate harm facing Israel's asylum seeker and refugee population in the Sinai, Egyptian border guards at the Israel-Egypt border often 'shoot to kill' refugees running to Israel.  In the last year, refugee groups have claimed that the Egyptian border guards have become more ruthless, injuring and killing more refugees than in years past.  According to our survey, of the 47 people who chose to answer questions about border shootings, 12 had been shot.

To make matters worse, the Israeli army sometimes employs a 'hot return' policy contrary to international law, whereby refugees are returned to Egypt between one hour and five days upon their crossing into Israel.5 Even though reports of beatings, death, rape, and immediate deportation are well known by Israeli authorities, the Israeli army continues to engage in this policy.  According to official information provided by the Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense, 136 asylum seekers were 'hot returned' to Sinai in 2010.6 Based on patient testimony, we have reason to believe that the actual number is much higher.

When Israel returns refugees to Egypt, they are subjected to deportation back to the countries from which they escaped. Refugees caught by Egyptian police either in the desert or at the border face physical abuse, sexual violence, imprisonment, and deportation back to their home countries.  While Egyptian NGOs and UNHCR are sometimes able to intervene on behalf of refugees facing deportation (including those facing certain death or imprisonment in countries including Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia), over the last three years hundreds of refugees have been deported from Egypt back to their home countries.  In June 2008, several sources reported a mass deportation of hundreds of Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees back to their home countries. Many were killed upon arrival and others thrown into prison or subjected to forced military conscription.7

Every refugee that crosses into Israel is detained at one of two Israeli detention facilities.  As of today, approximately 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including women, small children, and unaccompanied minors, are currently in Israeli prison facilities.  An under-funded and often discriminatory prison system means that refugees have to wait long periods of time before seeing a prison physician and issues like gynecology, rehabilitation, and mental health are mostly neglected.  After waiting weeks, and sometimes months, asylum seekers are released with nothing but a bus ticket to one of Israel's major cities.


Physicians for Human Rights-Israel calls on:

  • the international community to advocate to the Government of Egypt to find and release the refugees and asylum seekers currently held for ransom in the Sinai desert.  Once found, we call on the international community to ensure a holistic solution for these people including safe-passage to a third country.
  • the government of Israel to take responsibility for the refugees and asylum seekers that currently reside within its borders.  To respond to immediate medical needs, we call on the government of Israel to grant "social residency" status to all asylum seekers, enabling them to access public social services, including health care and rehabilitation. As per its obligations to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the government of Israel should also implement a more transparent and comprehensive system of Refugee Status Determination (RSD) for all asylum seekers and integrate and implement full human trafficking protections into domestic law.
  • the Israeli and international public to support human rights organizations in Israel and Egypt that provide humanitarian services to refugees and advocate locally and internationally that the Israeli and Egyptian governments take responsibility to prevent further suffering and care for all those affected.


Testimonies of Physical Abuse and Torture in the Sinai Desert

(Taken between January and December 2010 (updated December 22nd)

M., a 21-year-old man from Eritrea, paid 4,000 dollars: "I was tied up and they would hang me upside down and beat the soles of my feet. This was the worst torture I experienced while I was there.  I saw someone murdered in cold blood.  It's important for the world to find out about this, to prevent others from suffering like I did." The Open Clinic referred M. for a surgery consultation.

M., a 24-year-old woman from Eritrea, who arrived in Israel in May 2010: "The trip was the most undignified I have ever felt in my life.  I saw so much death on the journey through Egypt.  We did not eat for 16 days."

N., a 36-year-old woman from Eritrea, arrived to Israel in November 2010: "We were given 2 cups of water a day and porridge. I was held until my family paid the full amount to the smugglers.  One 20 year old man in our group died of thirst.  Everyone had brought a little water with them but he had not, and we were scared that if we gave him some water that we ourselves would not survive.  We eventually gave him some, but it was too late. I heard the traffickers tell the dead man's brother that he had not arrived in the Sinai yet, after they had dumped his body."

Y., a 32-year-old man from Eritrea, was held in Sinai for 45 days, and paid a total of 4,000 dollars, arrived to Israel in August 2010: "I was chained and beaten every day for one month and half. We were 8 people chained to each other by our legs. We were given water with salt in it so we did not ask for more. I was threatened that I would be killed and my kidney taken out if I did not give them the money. We were 25 people who did not pay the amount asked and they brought a "pretend doctor" who threatened us that they would take our kidneys if we did not pay.  So I called my family and begged them to send the money.  I paid a total of 4,000 dollars-- the initial agreement was 2,500 and they kept increasing it. 3 people of the group of 25 died because they were beaten. They were beaten on their genitals. I have an injury from the military in Eritrea so they would beat me there to cause the most pain.  I cannot sleep because of what happened to me there." Y. was referred by the Open Clinic for Orthopedic care.

F., a 20-year-old man from Eritrea: "We were given one loaf of bread the entire time we were in Sinai. Even though I paid the money, I was beaten almost every day. One of the people that came with me was beaten to death. He was 28 years old. Even though the man was dead, they were asking someone to speak on his behalf to his family so they would send money for him even though he was already dead."

A., 21-year-old man from Eritrea, was held for 90 days in the desert, and paid 8,000 dollars.  He arrived to Israel in August 2010. "I was kidnapped and imprisoned in the Sinai. My family struggled to pay the smugglers--they sold all their cows and they begged people to give money to save my life. I was tied in chains and beaten daily.  I felt close to death because I was so thirsty."  The Open Clinic referred him for x-rays and Orthopedic treatment.

T., a 64-year-old man from Eritrea: "I feel lucky to be alive. The Sinai was terrible. They gave me one cup of water every 24 hours for two people and only one bite of rice per person every 24 hours.  I was beaten when the money coming from my family was delayed.  My frustrations continue, because I am older so I cannot find a job in Israel."

M., a 29-year-old man from Eritrea, was held for 60 days in the desert: "We were kept in a room of 75 square meters with about 40 people.  I slept on the floor, and there was a sort of toilet outside in the bush.  We did not have a shower. I thought I would die of thirst and we did not get food everyday.  I saw many die, and a lot of physical violence towards refugees.  Many refugees were branded with a hot metal rod and beaten repeatedly in order to pressure them to pay more money."

S., a 21-year-old woman from Eritrea, was held for 90 days in the desert: "We were deprived of food and when we got food it was only bread.  The men were shackled but they didn't shackle the women.  The male prisoners were beaten everyday and the women were beaten twice a week.  This was all to get us to pay more money.  I was electrocuted three times."

A., a 42-year-old man from Eritrea: "I paid in advance so I was not hurt so bad.  I saw the people being mistreated and beaten.  They would make a big fire and heat a sword.  They burned the people who did not pay on their back and feet.  They would make everyone watch and listen to their screams.  Afterwards, these people could barely walk.  As we crossed the border into Israel, the Egyptian border guards started to shoot, and I got hit in the leg."  The Open Clinic referred A. for Orthopedic care.

M., a 22-year-old man from Eritrea, was held in Sinai 70 days, and arrived to Israel in September 2010: "I broke my leg in a car accident on the way to Sinai.  The car overturned because there were too many people.  Because of my injury, I stayed in the Sinai for 70 days.  I saw a lot of suffering.  People were tied in chains and beaten.  The traffickers wanted to show they could do anything they wanted to people.  The traffickers always talked about the people they had killed because they didn't pay, and they always threatened to kill us too.  Some of the people tried to run away.  I heard shooting, and the traffickers came back and told me they had killed my friends." The Open Clinic referred M. for Orthopedic care.

T., a 36-year-old man from Eritrea: "The place we were kept in was terrible.  I was chained together with three people, and so we had to move together. I was treated like an animal.  The smugglers would burn people with fire and put them on the phone with their family so the family would hear that they were being hurt.  I was chained and treated like this for four days.  When we would sleep they would unchain us.  I was beaten only once as soon as I got there, with a stick. If people complained or protested their treatment, they were beaten.  I got an infection in my wound.  There are more guards at night, they seem to be drunk and using drugs.  The women were taken out every evening (even the ones with their husbands) I think they were being raped."

S., a 27-year-old man from Eritrea, was held in the desert for 60 days: "I could not get the money they were demanding, so they beat me severely everyday.  I can no longer properly make a fist and my nails are permanently broken from the beatings. I have many scars on my side. In Sinai, we were given very little to eat and drink."

T., a 23-year-old woman from Eritrea, was held in the desert 60 days: "I was beaten very badly.  I have scares on my back, side, and face from all the beatings.  They made me pay twice.  Now that I am in Israel, I cannot find a job.  I feel very alone here." T. was referred to a Dermatologist to examine her scars and for Psychosocial mental health care.

M., a 22-year-old woman from Eritrea, was held in the desert for 30 days: "I stayed for one month in Sinai, and I was sold twice to different groups of smugglers.  The entire time I was in Sinai I was not allowed to bathe. One person ran away without paying. The traffickers would take certain people and put fire to their backs until they were badly burned while they made the others watch.  They also made everybody watch them punish another boy who tried to run away. They hung him by the neck until he was almost dead, they cut him down just in time to keep him alive. They did this to scare the others so they would not try to run."

W., a 31-year-old man from Eritrea, was held in Sinai for 30 days, and arrived to Israel in October 2010: "I was with 250 people in Sinai for 1 month.  I was beaten and chained.  I saw two people killed, they had complained and so the smugglers hit them on the head with iron bars and left them to die in a metal garbage container. I was also burned on the leg because I could not pay. I was also beaten for trying to pretend that I was one girl's husband so the traffickers would not rape her.  They took her and some other women anyway. This was the most painful thing for me to see.  The women were begging for someone to help them, and I could not do anything."

M., a 24-year-old man from Eritrea, was held in Sinai for 25 days, paid 3,000 dollars, arrived to Israel in December 2010: "I have scars on my back because of what happened to me in Sinai. They asked some people for 10,000 dollars and they could not pay so they were tortured.  Some ran away and 2 were shot dead. Out of 50 people that came, 22 people tried to run away. I was beaten on the back and was hung upside down by my feet. I can no longer bend because of the beating."




0 #8 Zelku dea 2010-12-27 10:26
All these are lies, and garbage trash full of invented lies. were they only Eritreans who were ill treated by smugglers, why didn't they interviewed other victims from other countries? Why was the so called 64 years old man fled the country? was he forcibly conscripted or just for a green posture life? The worst invented lies was that they said they were killed ones they deported back to their country. we just demanded evidences for these lies.
0 #7 Betri Aron 2010-12-27 10:08
You people how many times could we tell you the truth? Why you wondering about rape or torture, or others consequences, when our citizens now days faces different problems out side their home? I rather advice you instead blaming other governments, and focusing at the effect of the matter, you better focus at the cause of the matter and blame your own government. I really sad too, when i see socalled oppositionrs fighting and accusing each other,despite the source common enemy is obvious.
0 #6 seb lomi 2010-12-27 10:06
I can't stop crying, my God have mercy on us! Eway ane ahwatey!
0 #5 Independent Eritrea 2010-12-27 08:26
I wonder about 64 old man, Eritrea is becoming a devil place for us young people age up to 45 yrs old because endless national service and poletical and economic situation of Eritrea. But this 64 yr old man........ some time we have to make up our mind
-2 #4 Rozina` 2010-12-27 07:30
I know it's tough but i don't believe all what is been said ppl leving the country coz of Esseyas wedi kelbi this stories is not believable i payed this much i was tortured who is doing all this Eritrean so called brothers and beating raped all this i don't know doesn't click why did the 64years old left his country and face and put his life into trouble he should have stayed home. i wish them da best.
-1 #3 በረኸትኣብ ዑቝባስላሴ 2010-12-27 06:51
uuuuuuuuuuuuuuu yyyyyyyyyyyyyyy yyiiiiiiiiiiiii iiiiiiii Eritreawi tefu.
There is no more country name eritrea,everyon e went out.
we cant get any one who can save us.The unlucky people.
really unlucky.I think now it seems better if we come under ethiopian than HGDF.

+2 #2 Cross Road 2010-12-27 06:18
Fellow Eritrean please wake up and be sensitive to the dark life our people are living in. It is so painful to see the opposition media attacking each other, case in point is the so called 'opposition media' Meskerem.com' attacking Assenn.com on an article written in 2001. Let us support each other and see what Assenna is doing NOW.
+1 #1 Yonas 2010-12-27 06:06
Rui Tavares - Crisis of Eritrean refugees in Sinai - 2010/12/16

Speech by Marietje Schaake MEP (ALDE ADLE) on :
Eritrean refugees held hostage in Sinai

Refugees face deportation in Israel