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WATCH: Refugees smuggled to Israel face organ theft in Sinai

CNN and Egypt’s Channel 25 released this week chilling video reports lending credence to rumors of an emerging organ trade in the Sinai Peninsula

By Noa Yachot

Thanks to a spate of media interest over the last year, the numerous ordeals faced by African refugees smuggled to Israel have been well-documented. Detailed reports in the press and by rights organizations have covered the exorbitant amounts Bedouin smugglers demand for the coveted trip from the Horn of Africa to the Holy Land, along with the horrors many face once in Sinai. Smugglers may at that point suddenly demand more money – sometimes up to $20,000, ten times the initial sum – and then the real abuses follow.

The reports have detailed the beatings, the starvation, the gang rapes. I have met dozens of refugee women desperate to access abortions before their communities and families learn of the pregnancies that result. Sometimes, prolonged captivity in Sinai means advanced pregnancy upon arrival in Israel, and consequently, no possibility for abortion. In at least one case reported by +972, the inability to come to terms with the cultural stigma embodied by such a birth resulted in the murder of a new Eritrean mother and her baby, at the hands of her husband, who then committed suicide.

The more sophisticated the smuggling networks become, the more brutal they seem to be. For some time, refugees have been reporting to human rights organizations that their captors have threatened to seize their organs should they fail to raise a wildly unfeasible sum. But before this week, no definitive proof of organ theft had surfaced.

On Thursday, as part of the network’s “Freedom Project,” CNN reported on what appears to be a growing organ trade emerging from the refugee smuggling industry in Sinai.  The report shows chilling pictures of what Hamdy Al-Azazy, head of Egyptian rights NGO New Generation Foundation, says are the bodies of African refugees bearing distinct scars. The report quotes a forensic specialist who says that the photos strongly indicate organ removal – most commonly of corneas, livers and kidneys. Watch the report here (but beware of graphic content):

According to Sigal Rozen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, the report is incorrect when it states that the bodies belong to refugees who could not pay their own ransom. “Two years of intensive testimony collection has led me to the conclusion that there’s no connection – young pretty women are often held for months after they pay, only because they want to continue to rape them, and many young men whose ransom had been paid disappear without contacting their loved ones – it is entirely possible that the reason being that they are young and suitable for organ [theft],” she said.

Another report on Egypt’s Channel 25 depicts the corpses in Sinai being dug up, bearing testimony to the removal of organs. Please note that this clip is far more graphic than CNN’s; watch at your own risk.

The Egyptian government has been known to take a hands-off approach to Sinai, and the situation in the peninsula is said to be even more lawless since Hosni Mubarak was removed from power earlier this year. When asked last year about the Sinai camps, an Egyptian official said, “You are talking about illegal immigrants. Thus, when engaged in illegal activity, bad things can happen.” Israel, for its part, has done little beyond holding a Knesset meeting or two to discuss the atrocities taking place in its backyard. Victims who reach Israel can at best enjoy the medical and psychological assistance of NGOs, and at worst face prolonged detention, and ultimately, deportation. For now, even as things get increasingly bloody, the community of states has done little to join the media and human rights advocates in making any noise.

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    1. aristeides

      I hope people watch this, preferably the 2nd one.

      Reply to Comment
    2. alessandra

      the Beduins say neither Christian nor Muslims can do such things (I’m talking about the second video), although they talk about some Israeli phone nbrs and the journalist mentions Israel as well.
      apart from that… as there can be probably also some Israeli involved in that…I think not even animals can do what we may see in the video (I mean treating people like that, torturing and taking organs away). But also the roughness the Beduins have in moving, touching, opening the graves… it’s awful.
      African immigrants are treated like stuff to exploit.
      Someone in the Sinai desert is doing a big business on that.
      but it is very very strange that nobody between those Beduins is not involved this human traffic… it seems that the human traffic is managed by some unknown mafia or supernatural ghost… come on… Egypt authorities and local Beduins know nothing about it??? who are they fooling?

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      I’d say they meant TRUE Christians or Muslims. But yeah, that sheik was pretty evasive.

      I can’t imagine anyone wanting organs if they knew they were obtained under those conditions. Not just morally but hygienically.

      Reply to Comment
    4. alessandra

      @Aristeides: the point is not the hygienic criteria… the whole story, this traffic is not only immoral, is a crime, it is something that should touch everyone of us very deeply.
      In this case we’re talking about Eritreans trying to escape from a violent dictatorship, passing through Egypt. there are thousands and thousands more passing through Sudan and Lybia and then trying to get their way to Italy and dying along the way in the sea. But even worst many of them were detained and abused in the Lybian camps. it is a daily deaths report.
      I knew the situation in Sinai was no better, but now this organs traffic make me think that there are no limits to human greed.

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      The hygienic point may not be the essential one, but it does bear considering, in that it also risks the lives of the recipients, who might be innocent. Even more potential victims of this crime.

      Reply to Comment
    6. AYLA

      @972, NOA–thank you so much for posting this. Four years ago, I was a volunteer with the ARDC (african refugee (something) center) in Tel Aviv, and I got involved through a friend of mine who was an african refugee, from Eritrea. He had to pay over $4000 along the way in fees to people who threatened to imprison, torture, or deport him (which would have led to his imprisonment and torture, at best, back home). Things were rather tame then as compared to now, and Israel’s border was much more porous where african refugees were concerned. I wrote a google-able op ed about the detention center Israel is building for Ha’aretz called “The Failed Policy of No Policy” (by Ayla Peggy Adler), and a more emotionally driven piece on my own blog, measuringrain.blogspot.com, in the first piece and the impetus for the blog: “Why Blog?” Refugees from the Horn of Africa come to Israel for no reason other than the fact that it’s the first safe place for them. And while I understand that Israel can’t absorb everyone, there is such an opportunity for Israel to lead the world in addressing this problem collectively. Also, the work Israel does here in the Negev in Hydrology in the Drylands and Desertification is work that they already share with Africa and African students, and many of the conflicts that lead to people needing to flee their native lands originate from drought. Again, Israel could really take a stand as a world leader in what she already does so well. We read about atrocities such as this one, and it seems as if it’s this specific atrocity–specific in time and place and circumstance–but everything is connected. Everything China is doing in Africa trickles down to what is happening to these refugees. The good news about everything being connected is that everything we do toward good, together, has a global effect. Buying local food, for example. Even that. Regarding what is happening to these people just across our border, Israel must step up.

      Reply to Comment
    7. AYLA

      @Noa–what’s the status of the detention center in the Negev? I’ve heard *nothing* about it since I wrote this http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-failed-policy-of-no-policy-1.331067. A friend of mine’s friend’s husband was one of the people hired by the State to architect and build the center. He kept going back to the Israeli government and saying, “How can I design this? They aren’t criminals; it has to be open. It has to be a healthy space for children to learn and to grow. I don’t know how to design this.” I wanted to interview him, but he wouldn’t talk publicly.

      Reply to Comment
    8. T. Haile

      inhumanity cruelty,hardly to imaging in the 21th century yes no one can imagine this to happen. I am in sock to see this cruel act to happen. This not for one person but for thousand of people, And this should stop in immediately.Where this people, murdered the country is should be responsible and by the international community would be accountable.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Yosef

      The worst thing anyone could imagine its not a tribe or country issue but this is crime against humanity. I wish more is done to ever see this kind of things happen ever again by any means necessary. I hate to blame one group but as you can see this is organized crime that includes smugglers and doctors these heartless corrupt doctors should not deserve to walk a day on this earth. and its obvious egypt has done alittle or anything to prevent but aid in the killing by the guards. Hopefully this will sink in one day and that they will get their karma.

      Reply to Comment