Catholic refugee agency calls for end Sinai hostage situation
By David Kerr
Rome, Italy, Sep 15, 2011 / 01:46 am (CNA).- A leading Catholic charity is urging the upcoming Egyptian government to help free several hundred hostages being held captive by human traffickers in the country’s northern Sinai Peninsula.
“How much suffering must be endured before their cries of pain will be heard by the international community? The new Egyptian government must intervene to free the hostages,” says Father Mussie Zerai of the Habeshia Agency for Development Cooperation on Sept. 14.
Fr. Zerai said he just received a call from a woman who was being held hostage along with 53 others in Sinai. The group set off from Sudan some time ago, having paid $3,000 for help getting across the border into the more economically prosperous Israel.
“But once they arrived in Rafah they have been sold to another group of traffickers,” Fr. Zerai explained. The refugees are now being kept in the basement of a building until they pay more than $28,000 each. According to the account given to the priest, the group is also being beaten and tortured.
Fr. Zerai’s Habeshia Agency is based in Rome and seeks to assist asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. Hostages often phone him to relate the conditions they are being kept in. Their captors allow them to make calls to relatives and others so they can try to obtain ransom money.
Fr. Zerai says the group he spoke to is only one of several, with as many as 500 to 600 people in total being held hostage. This includes pregnant women and young children.
“This story goes on for some time, we have repeatedly denounced these crimes against humanity that are taking place in Sinai,” said Fr. Zerai.
The governance of Egypt has been in flux since the overthrow of the 30-year dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak in February of this year. Democratic elections are planned for October, but in the meantime the country is being governed by the military.
Regardless of who emerges as the leader of the new government in the coming months, Fr. Zerai says ending human rights abuses in Sinai has to be one of their top priorities.
“The regime changes in Egypt, but (that) does not stop trafficking. In fact, the current situation seems more favorable to the robbers, who are the absolute masters in the area of the Sinai border with Israel,” he says.
He also wants other agencies such as the United Nations and European Union to help stop the abuse.
“How many refugees have to lose their lives before the world says enough to this massacre of innocents?”