Report prepared by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel:
59% of asylum seekers treated at the Open Clinic report being chained and/or locked up; 52% report physical abuse; 44% witnessed violence and fatalities of other asylum seekers; Health and Welfare Ministries remain silent
Groups of refugees, mainly from Eritrea, are being held captive by smugglers at torture camps in the El-Arish area while on the journey through the Sinai to Israel. The smugglers are demanding ransoms of thousands of dollars for the release of each captive. Methods used to apply pressure on the captives’ relatives to pay up include systematic violence and torture of the hostages. Smugglers telephone captives' relatives so they can hear the cries of pain over the phone. Survivors report the use of systemic violence, including punching, slapping, kicking, and whipping. Forms of torture include burial in sand, electric shocks, hanging by the hands and legs, branding with hot metal, as well as rape and sexual abuse.
About one year ago, the staff at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel's Open Clinic began to notice an increase in the number of female asylum seekers coming to the clinic to request abortions. Open Clinic staff soon found out that many of the women were repeatedly raped in Sinai while on their way to Israel. In response to these reports and other additional evidence, PHR-Israel developed a questionnaire administered to new patients at the Clinic about their journey through the Sinai.
Between 12 October 2010 and 30 January 2011, PHR-Israel interviewed 284 asylum seekers. Among the findings: 59% of the respondents stated that they were held under close guard and/or shackled to each other with chains; 52% of the respondents reported that they were subjected to serious violence. Approximately 15% have scars and signs of violence on their bodies from the torture they suffered in Sinai. In addition, 44% of respondents stated that they witnessed violence and/or fatalities of other asylum seekers while they were in Sinai; 88% stated that they experienced severe hunger and food deprivation; and 66% reported that they were denied access to water.
To date, the State of Israel has not taken any meaningful action to help treat these victims. The silence on the part of the Ministries of Health and Welfare is particularly deafening. The relevant government ministers have the legal authority to grant social residency status to individuals seeking political asylum. These ministers must lead a process of policy change that will enable asylum seekers to realize their rights to health and dignity.
The Minister of Health to exercise his authority and act promptly to apply the National Health Insurance Law to refugees and asylum seekers present in Israel, regardless of their civil status.
The Minister of Welfare to exercise his authority and grant rights and duties in accordance with the National Insurance Law relating to asylum seekers present in Israel.
Significant political changes have occurred in Egypt since the publication of our previous report. These changes offer real hope for the future but at present they have created uncertainty and concerns regarding the fate of those being held.
In recent days, the organization Agenzia Habeshia has reported that approximately 190 refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia are currently being held at two torture camps in Sinai. The smugglers are demanding payment of ransoms of up to
$10,000 for many of the captives. Alarming reports from these camps include evidence of acts of physical abuse and sexual assault.
PHR-Israel urges the representatives of the international community:
To act in cooperation with the relevant authorities in Egypt in order to locate and free refugees and asylum seekers who are still being held captive for ransom.
To ensure that, after their release, these individuals receive comprehensive attention and protection, including safe passage to a third country.
To engage with the Egyptian army in order to end their practice of shooting refugees crossing the border from Egypt to Israel.