Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Egyptian security officers have "facilitated" or "denied the horrific abuse of refugees" in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and eastern Sudan.
In a report released by the New York-based human rights group, HRW said Eritrean refugees were tortured by traffickers through rapes of both women and men, electric shocks, burning body parts and hanging victims from ceilings. Seventeen of the victims said they saw others die of the torture.
“Egypt and Sudan are giving allegedly corrupt security officials a free pass to work with traffickers,” report author Gerry Simpson said. “The time has long passed for Egypt and Sudan to stop burying their heads in the sand and take meaningful action to end these appalling abuses.”
The report interviewed some 60 witnesses in a collaborative work by HRW and an Egyptian nongovernmental organization. Victims said Egyptian traffickers had tortured them to squeeze out up to US$40,000 from their relatives.
Some of the people interviewed said they had been abused for weeks or even months near the town of Arish in Sinai, near Egypt’s border with Israel.
"They hung me from the ceiling so my legs couldn’t reach the floor and they electrocuted me," a 23-year-old Eritrean man, who was handed to Egyptian traffickers in March 2012 by Sudanese traffickersm told HRW. "One person died after they hanged him from the ceiling for 24 hours. We watched him die.”
The report accused the Egyptian officials who deny there are trafficker abuses or even that trafficking occurs in Sinai of allowing it to become a “safe haven” for traffickers.
Simpson called on both Egypt and Sudan to prosecute traffickers and any security officials colluding with them in order to put an end to torture and extortion of Eritreans on their lands.
“Both countries’ failure to adequately investigate and prosecute traffickers who severely abuse their victims and the alleged collusion by security officials breaches their obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, international human rights law, and, in Egypt’s case, national and international anti-trafficking laws,” Human Rights Watch said.
Egyptian authorities have intensified security operations in Sinai since June 2013 amid attacks by Sinai-based extremists, but the operations have not included identifying and prosecuting traffickers, according to HRW.
More than 200,000 Eritreans have fled their country to remote border camps in eastern Sudan and Ethiopia since 2004 by averting Eritrean border guards.
Until 2010, tens of thousands paid smugglers who took them through Sinai to Israel, according to HRW report.
When Israel had almost completed a 240-kilometer fence on Sinai's borders by 2011, traffickers continued to kidnap Eritreans in eastern Sudan and sell them to Egyptian traffickers in Sinai.
Recent reports were received according to the human rights group of trafficking from eastern Sudan to Sinai as recently as November 2013 and January 2014.
Some of the victims also said that they had seen Egyptian security officers conspiring with traffickers at checkpoints between the Sudanese border and Egypt’s Suez Canal, in traffickers’ houses, at checkpoints in Sinai’s towns, and close to the Israeli border.
Although Egypt’s public prosecutor has prosecuted a Sinai trafficker’s accomplice in Cairo, according to a lawyer representing trafficking victims to HRW, Egypt had not prosecuted anybody responsible for trafficking and torture by the end of 2013.
Victims also complained that Egyptian border police often stop the Eritreans and transfer them to military prosecutors and then detain them for months in Sinai police stations when traffickers free those whose families have paid their ransom.