By Worthy News Middle East Service with Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO/JERUSALEM (Worthy News)-- Rights activists urged Egypt's government Friday, December 10, to free hundreds of Eritrean and other African refugees, including Christians, who they said have been held as hostages by human traffickers in the Sinai Desert for over a month, and probably sold to other dealers.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said it was "gravely concerned" by reports that around 100 of the 250 Eritrean refugees held "by Bedouin people traffickers" in the Sinai Desert "were been moved overnight."
CSW said it was informed that prior to separating and moving some of the Eritreans, "the traffickers tore up the refugees’ religious materials and assaulted them severely for failing" to make all payments.
The Eritreans are part of a much larger group of refugees and asylum seekers from Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia who have been imprisoned for over a month in degrading conditions, CSW told BosNewsLife in a statement.
"Despite paying $2,000 for passage to Israel, these people have been held hostage for months on the outskirts of a town in the Sinai Desert in purpose-built containers, while Bedouin people traffickers demand payment of up to $8,000 per person for their release."
The exploitation of asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa by people traffickers in the Sinai Desert is an ongoing problem, according to rights watchers.
"'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.
This month CSW, Agenzia Habeshia, EveryOne Group and Human Rights Concern Eritrea issued a joint appeal calling for urgent international intervention and highlighting ''the degrading and inhumane conditions suffered by the refugees" who they said "have suffered extreme methods of torture, including electric shocks, as well as being bound by chains around their ankles and denied adequate food and water."
Rights organizations Agenzia Habeshia and the Everyone group also filed a lawsuit in Egypt's capital Cairo against traffickers, and passed on details of the location of the initial detention facility, CSW said.
The Egyptian government has reportedly said that it is making "round the clock" efforts to free the victims, however CSW complained that there "has been no real sign of progress."
CSW’s National Director Stuart Windsor said that, "The latest news that some of the refugees have been moved suddenly and under cover of darkness is deeply worrying. The welfare of the remaining refugees is also of great concern."
Windsor said he is concerned that the situation of refugees is "deteriorating" rapidly.
"The entire international community must mobilize to increase pressure on the Egyptian government to take effective measures to liberate these people, and to grant them the protection that they are entitled to as refugees under international law, as well as unhindered access to the local branch of the [United Nations refugee agency] UNHCR," he said.
There are several reasons why refugees flee, including religious persecution in countries such as Eritrea, where thousands of Christians are held in prisons across the country, according to several human rights groups.
Most of them are believed to be evangelical Christians as Eritrea only recognizes four religious groups including Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Eritrea. However, even members of recognized religions haven't escaped persecution, according to church observers.
Eritrean Christians say the government of President Isaias Afwerki has stepped up its crackdown on churches it has outlawed in 2002. The government has denied wrongdoing saying "no groups or persons are persecuted in Eritrea for their beliefs or religion."
Eritrea has been included in the U.S. State Department's latest list of "worst violators" of religious freedom.