Friday, June 10, 2011

War crimes in Eritrea

Eritrean Christian refugees have fled the brutal regime of their homeland to Egypt where hundreds are in prison or taken hostage for ransom, and subjected to torture, beatings and sexual assault.

They risk their lives escaping Eritrea, which can be regarded as the second worst place in the world to be a Christian, after North Korea. Christians, particularly evangelicals, are tortured and imprisoned in notoriously horrendous conditions for their faith; they are viewed as a threat to national unity because they give their ultimate allegiance to God and not to the state.

Those who manage to escape often flee to Egypt, where hundreds of refugees arrive every month, with the aim of crossing its border into Israel. Channel Four’s Unreported World highlighted the desperate plight of Eritrean refugees on Friday (3 June). The programme, “Breaking into Israel”, exposed how they are forced to put themselves in the hands of people-smugglers and make the arduous 900-mile journey across the Sinai desert. Some die along the way; others are shot dead as they attempt to cross the Egypt-Israel border; and those who are caught are sent home to almost certain torture and death.

The majority of Eritrean refugees are Christians. Many end up in Egyptian prisons or being held hostage for ransom by Bedouin Muslim nomads, who work with the traffickers, in the deserts of Sinai. There are currently around 500-600 Eritrean prisoners in Egyptian custody and an estimated 100-200 in the hands of traffickers, who have been less restricted in their criminal activities since the Egyptian revolution in January. The hostage-takers are now demanding up to US$20,000 per person for their release; if their families don’t pay, the hostage is killed and there are unconfirmed reports that the captors are turning to forced organ harvesting, especially if the ransom is not paid. Unwary Eritreans are also being kidnapped from UN refugee camps in Sudan.

The refugees suffer inhumane treatment, including rape, sexual harassment, torture, beatings and slavery at the hands of the Egyptian authorities or the Bedouin gangs. Those in prison are denied medical care, suffer malnutrition as a result of meagre daily rations such as a piece of bread and a tomato, and have restricted access to visitors. Christians receive more severe treatment than Muslim prisoners because of their faith. Some have consequently adopted common Muslim names in an effort to alleviate their suffering.

NATO is fighting against an oppressive government is Libya and the EU has instituted sanctions against Syria. In both cases the cause is crime against its own people. Why has there been no similar action against Eritrea

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