Forgotten Hostages in Egypt

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The world has grown accustomed to people fleeing their own country by any means possible to escape oppressive regimes and look for a better life for themselves and their families. Such escapes often end in death. For the escapees who are fortunate to make the trip successfully, arrival at their chosen destination (or the destination chosen for them) can often mean further oppression and poverty, many being forced into criminal activity or prostitution in order to survive.

Vietnam, China, Libya, Somalia, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Chad, Burma; the list of countries that offer no hope or freedom to their own citizens is a long one. The accounts given by refugees of their experiences are harrowing, and many groups of people are over-looked by the international community.

One such group is made up largely of Eritreans and Ethiopians who have tried to escape their countries to find safety and a new life for themselves in Israel. However the journey is treacherous, and many hundreds have fallen into the hands of unscrupulous Bedouin tribesmen as they have tried to trek across the Sinai desert to get to their promised land.

Those who are caught are kept in squalid, inhumane conditions while their captors torture them in order to persuade them to contact relatives by mobile phone who are then put under pressure to transfer large sums of money into foreign bank accounts. Verified stories are told of torture by rape and electric cattle prods, with many people dying.

The Sinai falls within the jurisdiction of Egypt, and although the Egyptian authorities have been alerted to what has been happening under their eyes they have shut those eyes and deny that there is a problem.

Most of the refugees of course are young and include young children, the gangs having no thought for anything but extorting money from their anxious relatives. The captives are kept often in pits with no sanitation or health care and live in constant terror.

An excellent book that highlights the plight of people trying to escape repressive regimes is Leaving Tangier by Tahar be Jalloun. In it he vividly depicts the suffering young people have to endure to escape their dead-end existences in Morocco, and he also spells out what they have to endure if they succeed in crossing the narrow strip of water that separates Africa from Europe. Well worth a read, and although it’s about the Moroccan experience, you can substitute the name of many another country – maybe even your own.

You might also consider doing something about the situation in Sinai. A polite but firm letter to the Egyptian embassy in your country will make Egypt know that the world is aware of the suffering that they are doing nothing about. It’s reckoned that if a dozen or so letters arrive on an Ambassador’s desk he will start to think.

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