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Sinai: a prison for African migrants

Thousands of migrants, primarily Eritrean, are often kidnapped, tortured and blackmailed by networks of traffickers. Sister Azezet Kidane fights for their liberation and dignity.

The phone never stops ringing, at any time of the day. And she answers all calls. Sister Azezet Habtezghi Kidane, Comboni missionary, has no respite, since she tries to help those that have no peace. They often come to her, wounded in body and soul. The telephone is ringing again, Sister Aziza – the missionary is called by this name here in Bethany – explains: “Itís a young Eritrean, he calls me at least twenty times a day. They have tortured and humiliated him to the point that he puts the blame on what happened in Sinai for anything negative afflicting him. He feels insulted, outraged, injured, but he also feels guilty, as if somehow, he were responsible for all the evil they did to him”.

Sister Azezet is Eritrean too, but she has chosen the world as home. Once she became a Comboni missionary, she dreamed of going to Sudan, but she was sent to the Middle East, Israel – the Holy Land ñ which is the cursed land to the victims of human traffickers. Mostly Eritreans, and many Sudanese as well, are fleeing from dictatorial regimes where people have been reduced to starvation. Dictatorship has turned Eritrea into an open-air prison. Since 2004, over two hundred thousand Eritreans have fled repression to border camps in eastern Sudan and Ethiopia. Tens of thousands of them have been kidnapped by human traffickers and taken to the Sinai desert, in Egypt, where they suffered torture and ransom demands. Their dignity was not spared either.

Israel: lack of hospitality

When refugees finally arrive in Israel, despite that this is the land of people that have experienced the plight of migration and exile over millennia, they find very little hospitality here. Since 2006, the total number of migrants estimated to have entered Israel (home to 8 million inhabitants) illegally via Egypt has been estimated at more than 64,000.
Last December, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, approved a law which allows illegal immigrants from Africa to be detained for up to a year without trial. In January, more than thirty thousand African immigrants, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese, took to the streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to ask the Israeli government to review the law and to examine their requests for political asylum. There are many tragic stories behind migration. Sister Aziza works as volunteer nurse at the Physicians for Human Rights – Israel’s Mobile Clinic, in Tel Aviv. She does a lot of work here with discretion and humility, and at the same time she listens to the migrants’ sad stories.

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“These people – she says – are kidnapped and held in Sinai for a long period, sometimes even several months. They are abused and tortured and held for ransom in underground rooms. Ransom can reach $40,000. Some migrants are killed, others die in consequence of the violence suffered, others in desperation try to commit suicide. Women migrants are often victims of sexual abuse; they are those that suffer major traumas. In addition to all this, human traffickers force refugees lacking money, to have their organs removed as payment for their demands for large amounts of cash to take them into Israel’. ìMigrants are often worried for the others that are still attempting to cross the Sinai’, says Sister Aziza. ‘They tell us their stories at the clinic or on the phone. Listening to these stories of evil and desperation is really painful. We listen to them, and it is sad knowing that there is very little we can do, apart from being present and keeping on listening’.

International commitment

Sister Azezet has also written to Pope Francis. She knows that the Pope is very attentive and sensitive to the issue of human trafficking.
Since the very beginning of his pontificate he has condemned the trafficking of human beings, and again, he recently used his pulpit to speak out strongly against this crime that he called a crime against humanity. ìModern human slavery is a shameful activity and a disgrace to our society that calls itself ‘civilized’, the Pope said, ‘exploiters and clients at every level must make a serious examination before themselves and before God. Human trafficking is the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st century’.
High-level representatives from each faith community were at the Vatican last March, to sign an agreement launching the Global Freedom Network, in collaboration with the ‘Walk Free Foundation’, to help eradicate an injustice that affects up to 27 million people.

Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, have personally given their backing to the newly-formed organization that aims to eradicate slavery by encouraging governments, businesses, and educational and faith institutions to rid their supply chains of slave labor.

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The document states that ‘Modern slavery and human trafficking are crimes against humanity. The physical, economic and sexual exploitation of men, women and children condemns 30 million people to dehumanization and degradation. Every day we let this tragic situation continue is a grievous assault on our common humanity and a shameful affront to the consciences of all peoples. Any indifference to those suffering exploitation must cease. We call to action all people of faith and their leaders, all governments and people of goodwill, to join the movement against modern slavery and human trafficking and support the Global Freedom Network. Only by activating, all over the world, the ideals of faith and of shared human values can we marshal the spiritual power, the joint effort and the liberating vision to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking from our world and for all time. This evil is manmade and can be overcome by faith-inspired human will and human effort’.

Sister Azezet, meanwhile, continues her work; she cannot give up. The nun tenaciously carries on her daily struggle against the plague of slavery for human dignity .

(A.P.)

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