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Human rights watchdogs say refugees ‘held hostage, tortured’ in Sinai

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Israeli and international human rights watchdogs called on the Egyptian and Israeli governments on Wednesday to act against “torture camps” in the Sinai where refugees are being held for ransom.

In a report, the human rights groups charged that Israeli criminals were working with Egyptian smugglers holding hundreds of asylum seekers from African nations hostage in remote desert areas of Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

“Hundreds of refugees are still being held captive in the Sinai,” said the report produced by Israel's Physicians for Human Rights and the Hotline for Migrant Workers, in cooperation with Swedish, U.S. and Italian organizations.

The refugees “experience physical abuse, torture, systematic rape and even death, all with the objective to obtain tens of thousands of dollars in ransom money in exchange for their release,” it added.

The report identified at least five separate groups of hostages it said were being held in the Sinai, based on testimony from refugees still in captivity and those now in Israel.

Physicians for Human Rights said it had spoken to 562 refugees who sought medical treatment after arriving in Israel from the Sinai.

It said 78 percent “described being subjected to torture by smugglers that threatened them at gunpoint while locking them up in chains.”

The report said smugglers in Egypt often worked with criminals inside Israel who collected ransom money from relatives of refugees being held hostage.

“The Israeli organizations who wrote this report have transferred a great deal of information about suspected criminals that collaborate with the human traffickers,” the report said.

“None of the suspected criminals have been detained by police.”

The report described several examples of information that had been supplied to police about individuals suspected of working with smugglers.

But it said that even two individuals detained as they collected ransom money from the relatives of hostages were swiftly released and have not been prosecuted.

The rights groups called on Egypt, Israel and the international community “to act quickly in order to free the hostages... prosecute the smugglers and those that assist them (and) to bring an immediate end to the torture camps and networks of human smuggling.”