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Desert horror for asylum seekers

There has been a hullabaloo about the shark attack on a German tourist in the luxury Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh, on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. But the continuing plight of a group of Eritrean refugees held prisoner in the Sinai desert, has received little attention, despite the killing of three hostages on November 28.

Until an appeal yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI, only human rights campaigners such as the Italian EveryOne Group have been raising alarm bells on behalf of the remaining 77 Eritrean asylum seekers who are being held prisoner by people-traffickers.

EveryOne Group, an NGO working to protect refugees and migrants, has appealed to the UN, the European Parliament, the President of the European Commission, the Council of Europe's Committee Against Torture, Egyptian President Mubarak, and the Italian government:

These people have been held for months on the outskirts of a town in Sinai in purpose-built containers. Their captors are demanding payment of up to US$8,000 per person before releasing them, and are subjecting them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. They are bound by chains around their ankles, have been deprived of adequate food, are given salty water to drink, and have been tortured using extreme methods, including electric shocks, to force friends and families abroad to make these payments. The women in the group, who have been separated from the rest, are particularly vulnerable to severe abuse.

“Egypt will have legalized the trafficking of human beings, slavery, torture, and cold-blooded murder: a massacre that can be avoided with international diplomatic intervention”, EveryOne Group concludes.

The truth is that desperate asylum seekers have suffered terribly while crossing the Sinai desert for some time now. Easy prey for traffickers, they must cross through Egypt’s long desert border with Israel. Israeli tabloid newspaper Yediot Ahronot, for example, last month documented the horrific conditions in the camps run by Bedouin people smugglers.

This interest in the shocking conditions in Sinai is not an accident. Israel has become an unlikely magnet for asylum seekers over recent years, despite its hostility to migrants from Africa.

The aftermath of war and the brutal rule by the Aferwerki government in Eritrea has made even the unfriendly state of Israel an attractive destination for people escaping extreme poverty and religious persecution. The regime in Eritrea, which waged a civil war against neighbouring Ethiopia in which 100,000 people have lost their lives, is amongst the harshest in the region. The country has no constitution, no independent press. Religious minorities suffer persecution.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been warning of a “flood” of illegal migrants and his government is erecting a fence along the 130-mile border with Egypt as well as a detention centre. But Israel is not the only guilty party in this matter by a long way. Brutal treatment by the Egyptian government goes back at least five years, when it put down a protest by Sudanese refugees on their way to Israel.

Egypt is right now in the throes of a contested election. Its 78 million people are suffering high inflation and unemployment under the rule of 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak. His ruling National Democratic Party yesterday claimed to have won 83% of the 518 seats at stake in the National Assembly. But this was after the main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, had withdrawn from the election, protesting against ballot rigging. The Independent Committee for Election Monitoring is today holding an international press conference in Cairo to discuss the parliamentary poll and the deterioration of democracy in Egypt. Election monitors have called on the president to dissolve parliament.

Despite their differences, the present states of Eritrea, Egypt and Israel will never solve the problems facing their own people, let alone those of persecuted religious or ethnic minorities, such as the Eritrean refugees in Sinai. That task belongs to a mass movement, working for the common interests of those living in the region, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
7 December 2010

Italy – Threats and intimidation against human rights defender Mr Roberto Malini
Posted on 2010/12/07


Human rights defender Mr Roberto Malini was approached by unknown individuals who threatened him on 22 November 2010 in Treviglio (Bergamo), where he currently resides.
Further Information
Roberto Malini is co-president of EveryOne Group, a human rights organisation supporting Roma people and refugees in Italy. Front Line issued an urgent appeal in relation, respectively, to the sentencing in February 2010 of Roberto Malini and his colleague Dario Picciau for 'disturbing a police operation', and to other charges brought against Roberto Malini, Dario Picciau and Matteo Pegoraro in July 2010.
On 22 November 2010 in Treviglio, two unknown individuals travelling in a grey car approached Roberto Malini, who was walking on the footpath. The men, both approximately between 35 and 40 years old, stopped the car and threatened him as follows: “Be very careful! We are watching you: you, your negros and your gypsies”. A woman walking a dog then approached from behind and the two men left.
Roberto Malini and other members of EveryOne reported being followed and having received similar acts of intimidation on numerous occasions, in particular in the city of Pesaro where the group was very active. However, this is the first time such an instance occurs in Treviglio, where Roberto Malini now resides. This element suggests that he may be followed or subject to surveillance.
This episode occurred on the same day of EveryOne Group's intervention in a national radio programme and on newspapers on the treatment of refugees and on discrimination against Roma people in Italy.
Three judicial proceedings against EveryOne Group remain pending, all of which are related to their work in support of Roma people. In February 2010 they were sentenced to a prison term commuted into a fine for disturbing a police operation. The hearing on the opposition to the 'penal decree' upon which they were sentenced is scheduled for 17 February 2011.
Proceedings remain pending against the group for 'falsely accusing others of the commission of a crime' in relation to a letter where they denounced an alleged discriminatory decision of the Pesaro social services against a Roma family. Proceedings for defamation initiated by an hospital in Pesaro in relation to the group's denunciation of an alleged denial of health care to a Roma woman also remain pending.

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