In an interview with DW, Human Rights Watch advocate Gerry Simpson explains that Eritrean refugees have been tortured by traffickers in Sudan and Egypt since 2011, but authorities have done little to tackle the problem.
DW: A recent Human Rights Watch report titled "I wanted to lie down and die" documents how Eritrean refugees have been tortured by Egyptian and Sudanese traffickers in the Sinai Peninsula, including cases of rape, burning, and mutilation. How did these refugees end up in the hands of traffickers in Egypt and Sudan?
Gerry Simpson: Since about mid-2011, hundreds - at the very least - of Eritrean refugees have been kidnapped by traffickers in eastern Sudan as they cross from Eritrea. They are then taken against their will into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where they're sold to Egyptian traffickers, who then torture these refugees for tens of thousands of dollars in ransom, holding mobile phones to them while they scream so their relatives are forced to pay. Both the Sudanese and the Egyptian authorities have done very little to address this. Sudan has prosecuted only 14 cases of trafficking and only four police officers who are involved in some of these cases, while Egypt denies that the problem exists.
What evidence do you have that Egyptian and Sudanese security forces actually colluded in this abuse?
In the report we present evidence of at least 29 incidents in which police and soldiers in eastern Sudan and Egypt facilitated these trafficking abuses instead of arresting traffickers and prosecuting them. They let traffickers pass through checkpoints in eastern Sudan. The police intercept refugees as they enter the country before handing them over to traffickers. The Egyptian police and military have allowed traffickers to cross the heavily policed Suez Canal between the main part of Egypt and its Sinai Peninsula. And it's this kind of collusion that urgently has to stop.
What do you want to see done about this?
We're calling on the authorities to investigate these crimes, to publicly admit that they're taking place and to hold any colluding security officials to account. We're also asking the Human Rights Council in Geneva to address this issue and to publicly ask Sudan and Egypt what they're doing to end these appalling crimes against Eritrean refugees.
Gerry Simpson is a senior researcher and advocate for Human Rights Watch. Based in Geneva, he regularly meets with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to advocate on Human Rights Watch's refugee work worldwide and to press the agency to enhance its protection of refugees.