Sinai. Not just a vacation place
Photo: Sigal Cohen
Photo: Gili Sofer
'I saw people dying of hunger'
Photo: Gili Sofer
Refugees: Smugglers raped us
In honor of World Refugee Day marked June 20, three women talk about torture they were subject to in Sinai camps while seeking shelter in Israel
Much has been said about the absorption of asylum seekers in Israel and about the way the State must act to deal with the phenomenon of illegal residents, living across the country without any rights.


Some of the less known facts are the troubles the shelter seekers experience on their way to Israel, in refugee camps in the Sinai peninsula.


The first stop for many shelter seekers is the Physicians for Human Rights' (PHR) Open Clinic in Jaffa. There they seek treatment for trauma and sickness – the results of their exhausting journey.


The clinic is operates by volunteer physicians, aid and medical professionals, who provide healthcare to people with no health insurance.


The PHR volunteers say the method of pressuring the relatives of asylum seekers during their stay in Sinai includes systematic violence and torture of the hostages, while the smugglers telephone their relative and let them listen to the cries of pain.


The survivors report of violence which includes using fists, slapping, kicking and flogging, as well as burial in the sand, electric shocks, hanging the victims from their hands and legs, burning with white-hot iron, rape and sexual abuse.


'They threatened to have doctor remove our kidneys'


In recent months, the open clinic's staff began noticing that many women refugees released from custody immediately asked to have an abortion.


In conversations held with them, the women shared with the clinic's volunteers the fact that they were raped on their way to Israel.


Here are the testimonies of three Eritrean women seeking shelter in Israel:


H. (24) arrived in Israel in February 2011:

"After we paid the smugglers $3,000, they locked us up. They kept me for three weeks. They took from me and my husband every valuable item, gold jewelry, and all the money we had left. The smugglers beat me up, as well as another woman who was there with a child, because $3,000 were not enough for them.


"For two weeks they kept us without water and without food, and we slept on the sand. They threatened to kill us, and to take our kidneys, if we failed to pay them more. They said they would have a doctor remove our kidneys.


"I saw people dying of hunger. Only those who had more money to pay were released. My husband is still in a detention facility. I was released fast because I'm pregnant."


G. (29) arrived in Israel in April 2011, spent 60 days in Sinai:

"I was in a group with 20 other women. In Sudan, smugglers forced us onto a truck and drove off. One of the girls died, and four others were in such a difficult medical condition that they had to be hospitalized when we arrived in Cairo. One of them practically went crazy, and another lost an eye.


"I arrived in Cairo with the remaining 14 girls. At first the smugglers demanded $3,000, but because I broke my collarbone I couldn't walk with the rest of the girls towards Israel, so I stayed with the smugglers for two more months.


"The conditions were horrible. They hardly gave me anything to eat or drink, and there were lice everywhere. And then the smugglers demanded that I pay them another $5,000.


"I was in so much pain, I was so ill, and I couldn't resist or do anything. They refused to provide me with medical care and just beat me up, threatening that if I failed to give them more money they would kill me and sell my kidneys."


T. (21) arrived in Israel in June 2011, spent 8 months in Sinai:

"…At first we were required to pay the smugglers $3,000 for them to smuggle us into Israel through Sinai. When I arrived in Sinai, a smuggler called Abu Abdullah demanded that I pay him $18,000. There was no way I could give him such a sum.


"Then the smugglers began abusing and raping me. They tied my legs with an iron chain. The smugglers would release me from the chain and rape me for eight months – in fact, the entire period I was in Sinai.


"They would rape me every two-three days. Each time a different smuggler would grab and rape me. Once a group of three men took me and raped me one after the other. In total, over eight months I was raped by seven different men. I remember the names of five of them, Abu Abdullah and four others.


"As a result of these rapes I have pain in my uterus, I feel like it's "burning" there and I shower several times a day.


"In order to force me to pay the $18,000 I was also beaten with a hose for eight months, in addition to electric shocks. Throughout that period I suffered from hunger, because we were given food once every three days – one piece of pita bread. For eight once I didn't take a shower once.


"Eventually, my father sent me $18,000 from Eritrea, and then the smugglers agreed to release me and transfer me to the border with Israel. My boyfriend died in Sinai from the violence and abuse of the smugglers."



First published: 06.30.11, 08:24
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