By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ASMARA/CAIRO (BosNewsLife)– There was concern Tuesday, June 5, over the whereabouts of two Eritrean women who were among a group kidnapped in Cairo by men claiming to be police officers, underscoring the risks faced by Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt, including Christians, rights activists said.
The two missing persons were among six young women, whose age range from 20 to 32, who were reportedly abducted after boarding a taxi and later pressured to embrace Islam. “In each instance, the taxi was stopped by men in police uniforms, who opened the door and sprayed an unknown substance into their faces, causing them to lose consciousness,” said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has investigated the case.
The women later awoke in a strange location, Christians said.
One of the women, who was abducted on her way to church and held for approximately three weeks, reportedly said that after awaking she found herself in a small room housing five other women.
All of them were allegedly abducted from the streets of Cairo, and three had already been there for three months. Two were said to have paid $5,000 each to buy their freedom, but were not released.
The women were reportedly compelled to wear burkhas and informed that they would be released upon converting to Islam. “Four of the women, although traumatized by their ordeal, eventually managed to escape by causing a commotion as their kidnappers attempted to transfer them by car to another location,” CSW said.
“The kidnappers reportedly fled the scene when members of the local community rushed over to investigate the commotion. However, two women remain unaccounted for,” the group added.
The latest abductions in Cairo is a new trend and has added to international concerns over the plight of refugees from Eritrea in Egypt, who already face kidnappings and torture in the country’s Sinai Desert, according to rights activists.
Since 2010, victims are known to have been abducted in Sudan before being transported to what Christians describe as “purpose-built facilities” in the area and tortured to extort exorbitant funds from friends and families.
Additionally, many Eritreans are reportedly languishing in Egyptian jails, where they allegedly face abuse, the threat of possible forcible return and are regularly denied access to the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
GROWING PRESSURE REPORTED
It comes as Christians in Eritrea have complained of growing persecution. Some 2,000 to 3,000 Christians are reportedly detained in Eritrea without charge or trial. Several Christians are known to have died in notorious prison camps, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has denied wrongdoing. He said policies are aimed at several religious groups who are “duped by foreigners”, seeking to “distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion.”
On May 15, 2002, all churches except those belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran denominations were effectively banned and the era of mass arrests of Christians began.
Members of independent evangelical and charismatic churches are particularly singled out, according to local church leaders and Christians.
However even traditional churches have complained of persecution, with Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios being under house arrest since 2006 for resisting government interference in church affairs. Priests seen as sympathizing with him were reportedly detained and harassed.