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More Active steps to Defeat Human Trafficking of Eritreans

In recent years Eritrean refugees have been facing the added dilemma of dealing with human trafficking (HT) criminals who have been preying on these vulnerable refugees fleeing the atrocities of the Eritrean regime. Many articles and detailed reports have been written on the issue by many Eritrean and non-Eritrean activists and human rights advocates. We will therefore dedicate this editorial to suggest ideas that may help in bringing this growing problem of human trafficking against Eritreans to an end. This inherently requires challenging head-on those responsible for the crimes.

Who are the criminals?

From the stories of the victims and investigative reports, it is clear that there are several culprits involved in this tragedy. They are:-

  1. Bedouin Rashaida criminals based in Eritrea and Eastern Sudan, and their counterparts in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
  2. These Bedouin criminals seem to work in collaboration with officials from the Eritrean and Sudanese regimes. The UN report (pages 20-21) issued on 13 July 2012 implicated Eritrean regime’s officials in committing heinous crimes of trafficking people and weapons out of Eritrea.  Although not part of the UN monitoring group’s remit, hence not included in the above report, there is no doubt that Sudanese officials are also part of the criminal network.   
  3. The third accomplice is Egyptian authorities in the Sinai Peninsula. There are several credible reports that indicate that the actual organ removals from victims take place in the Sinai in a much organised manner where ambulances are used as operating rooms to remove and transport victims’ organs. The Sinai is also where many refugees perish for failing to pay the demanded ransom that often exceeds US$30,000 per victim. It is unimaginable that atrocities of such magnitude would continue for more than five years without the complicity of Egyptian security and health officials in the region.

Having listed the most visible culprits of the barbaric crimes, the question that aught to be answered is what should be done to stop it. We will attempt to provide some suggestions to this effect.

Use Bedouin customs to tackle problems caused by Bedouins


The first group of traffickers are Arab Bedouins who roam the Red Sea coast countries. In Eritrea and Eastern Sudan they are known as “Rashayda”. Historically, these people have never had any local connection or loyalty to any country. Nor do they have any territory known to them. They travel where there are opportunities for illicit business. They cross the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia smuggling goods and return there with domestic animals such as camels. They are also known for kidnapping young children and selling them in the Arabian Peninsula oil rich countries. Due to long term conflicts, civil wars and wars of independence, the region’s governments: Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia were never seen to take the “Rashayda” issue serious enough. Rashaydas were never part of any country’s social development plans. Given the lack of loyalty and belonging, they are not considered as locals nor do they see themselves as such. However, after Eritrea’s liberation in 1991 and formal independence in 1993, the Eritrean regime of President Issayas Afeworki, who long before recognised them as one of Eritrea’s “9 nationalities”, was seen embracing them to become one of his ruling party’s important partners in their illicit business. In 1990s the PFDJ regime added a political dimension to this unholy relationship involving Rashaydas in the politics of Eastern Sudanese. To this end, the Eritrean regime created and armed Rashayda rebel group known as the “Free Lions”. They later became part of the Eastern Sudan peace deal signed in Asmara in 2006, which gave their leader – Mabrook Mubarak Salem – the position of “advisor to the Sudanese President”, which he still holds.

As Bedouin tribal customs dictate, individual loyalties is always to the tribe and the tribal leader, and not to the state. For this reason tribal leaders and elders should be engaged and fully involved in the efforts to stop the human trafficking crimes committed by individual members of the Rashayda and Sinai tribes. Without the pro-active engagement of the tribes, it will be difficult to address the problem and bring the criminals to justice. If tribal leaders and elders deliberately refuse to cooperate or fail to curtail their tribal members’ heinous crimes against Eritreans and East Africans, then they should be held responsible and made to account for every victim’s suffering and death. It’s tribal custom that the tribes are collectively responsible for the crimes of their individual members. Hence, it is legitimate as well as a deterrent measure to warn the Rashaydas and their Sinai partners that they will be expected to return money taken in ransoms and pay compensation to every victim. 

Once the criminal regimes in Eritrea and Sudan are removed and democracy restored the issue of Rashayda will need to be addressed as they will continue to pose threats to national and regional security and development. They should not be left lose in their transnational human trafficking and smuggling crimes.

Prosecute Sudanese and Eritrean regimes

The PFDJ regime has already been implicated as complicit in the human trafficking crimes. It may now be appropriate to move the regime’s case to regional and international courts for possible indictment as perpetrators of crimes against humanity. The head of the Sudanese regime as well as two or more of his ministers have already been indicted for their alleged genocide crimes in Darfur. The International Court may now look into the Sudanese President’s advisor Mabrook Salem and his tribes men who are acting as the “Janjaweed” in full collaboration with Sudanese government officials in Eastern Sudan.

In the meantime, the recent development in Sudan to pass laws specific to human trafficking are positive steps in the right direction, but have come too late and have yet to be implemented. As for the PFDJ regime, the issue has been non-issue for the past five years. When the regime can tackle the problem and punish the criminals, they chose to go silent. Instead of making any efforts to stop the crime in his own courtyard, the Eritrean self-imposed dictator has recently wrote to UN’s Secretary General alleging that his country has become a victim of human trafficking, which has been seen by observers as a useless attempt on the part of the pfdj regime to disassociate itself from the well-documented crimes they engineered and sanctioned through their army officials and criminal Bedouin allies.


Alternative to ransoms

Sinai seems the centre of operations where those kidnapped victims are brought to face the most horrendous of all crimes in their long journey under torture. The PFDJ and their Rashaydan partners reportedly sell their victims to Bedouins in Sinai. The latter group then torture and abused their victims in a bid to extort more money from their families and relatives in the diaspora. These Sinai criminals use different methods of physical and psychological torture to make relatives of the victims pay the demanded ransom or risk the death of their relatives.  Unfortunately, many Eritreans in the diaspora find no choice but to give in and pay the ransom demanded by the criminals to secure the freedom of their relatives, which sometimes include children as young as 8 and 10 years old.  

Although paying ransom and rescuing a human life outweigh other considerations, it must be stated that the payments do not bring the problem to an end. Instead, the criminals are motivated to commit more crimes and demand more money in ransoms. Pressure should therefore focus on the Egyptian authorities at the national and local levels so as to act immediately against these widely reported crimes.  

A word of thanks

Finally, we greatly appreciate all Eritrean individuals and groups who are working day and night to save the lives of the victims of human trafficking and to end the agony of their families. To this end EPDP’s diplomatic campaign, including their latest letter to the Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi is a positive step in the right direction. Similar visits made by Eritrean activists to the UK and other European governments demanding pressure be exerted on the Egyptian government is bearing fruit.  The work of Prof. Dr. Mirjam van Reisen and MEP Judith Sargentini at the European Union level is highly commendable and will require volumes to write about.  

Selfless Eritrean activist such as Meron Estifanos, members and supporters of Human Rights Concern, May 24th Movement, Suwera Human Rights Organisation, media outlets and other Eritrean civic movements are already delivering much needed help and raising awareness of the issues highlighted in this article. They all deserve our appreciation and support.  


Arkokabay Team

22nd March 2013

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