By BosNewsLife Middle East and African Services with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO/JERUSALEM (BosNewsLife)-- People traffickers have killed two Orthodox deacons who were among hundreds of African refugees held as hostages in the Sinai Desert, a Christian rights group said Monday December 13.
The two deacons were apparently singled out for punishment because their captors believed they were instrumental in alerting human rights groups of the plight of over 250 refugees and asylum seekers from Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in a statement to online news agency BosNewsLife.
The deacons were among 100 Eritrean refugees who had been separated from the group on December 10, CSW added.
"Prior to the move, the traffickers tore up the refugees’ religious materials and assaulted them severely for failing to make the ransom payments," CSW said.
Rights activists also said that the kidnapped refugees have been beaten, tortured and forced to drink their own urine after being denied water. "There are also reports of organ harvesting and of some pregnant women being forced to undergo abortions," CSW explained.
Rights groups have said that the refugees, believed to include Christians fleeing reported religious persecution in countries such as Eritrea, have been imprisoned for over a month by Bedouin people traffickers in the Sinai Desert. The traffickers are reportedly demanding payment of up to US$8,000 per person for their release despite charging them $2,000 for passage to Israel.
"The exploitation of asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa by people traffickers in the Sinai Desert is an ongoing problem. Kidnapping, organ trafficking and the trading of groups of asylum seekers between different gangs is common, and there are fears that the 100 Eritreans may have been sold on to other dealers in the area, CSW said.
On December 1 rights groups CSW, Agenzia Habeshia, EveryOne Group and Human Rights Concern Eritrea issued a joint appeal calling for "urgent international" intervention and highlighting what they described as "the degrading and inhumane conditions suffered by the refugees."
The groups said the refugees suffered "extreme methods of torture, including electric shocks, as well as being bound by chains around their ankles" and were denied adequate food and water. Agenzia Habeshia and the EveryOne group also filed a lawsuit in Cairo against named traffickers, and passed on details of the location of the initial detention facility, CSW said.
On Saturday, December 11, Egypt said it had no information about the refugees. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit appeared to be angry at a news conference saying "whoever has proof should come forth" and share the information, dismissing as unacceptable unsubstantiated reports "from any foreign, European or religious" source.
CSW’s National Director Stuart Windsor urged Egypt's government to help free the refugees. "We are saddened to hear of the deaths of the two deacons. The situation for these refugees is deteriorating daily and despite assurances by the Egyptian government that they are working hard to free these people, scant progress has been made."
Windsor said the people traffickers "have little regard for human life and have shown that they will not hesitate to kill, maim and abuse their victims." The official said that time is running out "and the international community must urge the Egyptian government to act decisively to prevent further loss of life by freeing these people and granting them unhindered access to the local offices of the [UN refugee agency] UNHCR."
Egypt, he said, "must become more proactive in bringing its treatment of refugees and asylums seekers in line with international norms, and ending human trafficking within its borders.”