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In the Media > Channel 4: Breaking into Israel
Title Channel 4: Breaking into Israel
Date 03.06.2011
The Article
In the Sinai desert, thousands of African immigrants fleeing conscription, torture and conflict in East Africa risk being shot by border guards and held ransom by people smugglers as they try to get to Israel.

The director Paul Kittel and his reporter arrive in the Sinai desert in north-east Egypt just over a month after the revolution that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Smuggling from Egypt to Israel has gone on for years, but now the smugglers are focused on people rather than goods.

The director and reporter visit a smugglers' safe house where 100 Eritrean migrants are crammed into four small rooms terrified that they will be arrested by Egyptian border guards.

Eritrea produces more refugees than almost any other country in the world, with nearly 2000 people escaping every month. Twenty-one-year-old Joseph has been in the smugglers' hands for over a month and has paid them $2000. He tells the reporter that the Eritrean regime forcibly conscripts men and women, and that deserters can be tortured or killed.

Another man, Sammy, says he has deserted the army and that torture, starvation and slave labour are commonplace. He also tells the team that conscription can be indefinite.

For the refugees, Israel's fast-growing economy promises safety and prosperity. The team talks to the mastermind of a people-smuggling ring transporting migrants into the country.

He tells Unreported World that it is a sophisticated operation run by Bedouins in three different countries and that one smuggler can transport up to 4000 migrants to Israel every two years.

Later that night the team is driven deeper into the desert, less than a mile away from the Israeli border. The refugees are about to embark on one of the riskiest parts of their journey.

Most of the 260km border is open, but Egyptian guards have been accused of using a shoot-to-kill policy against anyone found trying to cross into Israel illegally and 86 people have reportedly been killed crossing the border. The Egyptian authorities deny using a shoot-to-kill policy but say lethal force is justified to stop illegal activity.

The team crosses over into Israel as the migrants face the next stage of their journey; they must get further than 50km from the border or face being handed back to the Egyptian authorities if they're captured. The team receives a call from another refugee, Tadsse. He has been captured but has been detained rather than handed over to the Egyptians.

The team heads north to Tel Aviv, which is Israel's business capital and the goal for the refugees. They meet 25-year-old Eritrean Kidane Isaac who was smuggled over four years ago and now lives there legally and helps recently arrived immigrants.

He tells the reporter that many of the 20,000 Eritreans who have made it to Israel are now safe but destitute. He rents a tiny shared room in a flat with 16 other refugees.

He also claims that in recent months there has been a disturbing new development: smuggling gangs have started to hold refugees for ransom, extorting cash from relatives who already live abroad. He says men have been killed and women raped. The team travels to a medical centre that treats up to 700 Eritreans every month, who say they've been abused at the hands of their kidnappers.

With evidence suggesting nearly 200 Eritreans are being held hostage in the Sinai desert for ransom, Kidane talks to one smuggler insisting on $13,000 for each person being held. The smugglers are threatening to kill them if they don't get paid.

Israel has appealed to the Egyptian authorities to investigate these kidnappings but so far no cases have been pursued.

Israel is now building an electronic fence to keep African migrants out, but with the ongoing violence in their country, it seems clear that Eritreans will continue to seek refuge here and in Europe and take any risk on the way.


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Report: Hundreds of Refugees Held Hostage in Sinai Torture Camps Need Rescuing, 30.11.2011
Channel 4: Breaking Into Israel
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