There is still no sign of the 250 African migrants who are reportedlyheld hostage by human traffickers in the Sinai desert of Egypt. The Egyptian authorities have expressed scepticism about the reports, though on Wednesday they did find 83 migrants who were trying to cross into Israel – and duly arrested them.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch accused the Egyptian government of failing to prosecute traffickers and close down their detention sites.
"Egyptian authorities frequently say they are cracking down on organised crime in the Sinai," a spokesman for HRW said. "But the government is slow to react when human traffickers are holding hundreds of migrants for ransom."
The statement continued:
Throughout 2010, Human Rights Watch has obtained numerous credible reports - including detailed statements by Eritreans apprehended by Israel near Egypt's Sinai border - of a well-established trafficking network. Traffickers regularly hold hostage hundreds of mostly Eritrean and other sub-Saharan asylum seekers and migrants, including children, in various locations for weeks or months until their relatives abroad pay thousands of dollars to secure their release.
Explaining how the scam works, it said:
Numerous migrants reported that smugglers ask for US$2,500 to $3,000 to guide them to the border with Israel. But once these migrants arrived in Sinai, they found themselves in the hands of traffickers who shackled them and demanded additional money - ranging from $500 to $10,000. They threatened to kill or otherwise harm the migrants - in several cases, to remove and sell their kidneys for a large illegal market in Egypt - if they did not pay.
In dozens of cases asylum seekers and migrants said that to coerce relatives to make payments, traffickers would make them call their relatives by mobile phone and then shoot in the air or physically abuse them so the relatives would hear their screams.
Some migrants said that once their relatives paid the additional money, the traffickers handed them over to other traffickers who asked for more money.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 11 Dec 2010.