Der Speigel reports on the rise of human trafficking in the Sinai.
The Sinai Peninsula, which connects Egypt and Israel, has become a place of suffering and death for thousands of refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, from Eritrea, Somalia or Sudan. They come in search of a better life in Israel or Europe, but many of them end up kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured. Criminals among the Bedouins living here demand ransom from the victims' families back home. They often torture their prisoners to death. The government in Cairo, meanwhile, seems to ignore these brutal crimes.The fact is that, notwithstanding the lines on a map, many of the countries in the Middle-East are becoming failed states, with their governments losing effective control over territory. Barbarism is reasserting itself. As such, "traditional" occupations such as slavery, smuggling, banditry and so on, will only rise.
Since the revolution that upended power structures in Egypt, the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula has slipped further out of the country's political control. It has become a lawless region and a hotbed of criminals and terrorists. Groups of young men armed with AK-47s loiter in the streets. The business of human trafficking is booming, and the murder rate has skyrocketed.
"There are no police here," says Sheikh Mohammed, a young, bearded Bedouin leader. Sinai is run by family clans that follow their own rules.
Sheikh Mohammed is one of the Bedouins who reject the brutal trade in refugees. Still, he explains, "I can't free them. No one can interfere in another clan's affairs." Doing so could spark a bloody feud between clans. "I can only help the Africans if they escape on their own," he says.
... Certain elements come up again and again in the reports -- electric shocks, rape, sleep deprivation and being tortured with burning plastic that is sometimes even inserted in the vagina or anus. Videos taken by a local photographer show refugees with deep flesh wounds crawling with flies and infected, badly swollen limbs.
The New York Times estimates that 7,000 refugees have been abused in this way over the last four years, and that 4,000 of them may have died. These figures are drawn from data provided by aid organizations in Israel, Europe and the United States. Locals often find the dead bodies of African refugees who have simply been dumped in the desert or whose limbs can be seen sticking out of the sand.
... The ransom for a refugee from sub-Saharan Africa can now run as high as $50,000. And, in the last 20 months, an alarming new trend has developed: Many refugees end up in Israel who didn't actually want to go there. Bedouins from the Rashaida tribe kidnap these people in Sudan, sometimes even abducting them from refugee camps, then hand them over to clans in Sinai. Refugees report that this takes place in cooperation with Sudanese border police.
"As soon as the ransom for one person is paid, they immediately take their next hostage," says Mohammed Bakr, manager of a local NGO in North Sinai. Bakr says the only solution he can see is to inform people while they're still in their home countries about the dangers of trying to escape through Sinai.
Once these refugees are kidnapped in Sinai, they find themselves in a situation that is as hopeless as it is harrowing. Even if they do survive and are eventually released by their captors, they're left to wander in the no man's land near the Israeli border. If they cross the border, they risk being shot. If they make it into Israel, they may be arrested. If the Egyptian police catch them before they cross, they'll be locked up at police stations in Sinai and held in heinous conditions before eventually being deported back to their home countries.