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1 Chapter 1 Introduction Mirjam Van Reisen Eritrea is a beautiful place. Any new visitor would enjoy the breathtaking views from the high mountain ridges. A tourist would marvel at the beauty of the Sahel and its picturesque landscapes of sand and camels. Eritrea boasts a long sea shore and, together with its islands in the Red Sea, it could be an amazing resting place for tired travellers. Eritrea boasts of two ports in Massawa and Assab – an incredible economic asset in a very well-established geo-strategic location. In Eritrea, one finds gold, among other resources, and the country is well endowed with the raw materials for extractive industries. It provides farmland, pastures and fishing opportunities, and the people of Eritrea have lived from the land for as long as they can remember. This land is their home. Eritrea is a relatively small country (although four times the size of Belgium), with a population of between 3–6 million people. Its people, who are from diverse ethnic origins, have lived together for centuries. It has a devout population for whom tradition and religion play an important role and family responsibilities are of the highest priority. Its culture provides beautiful music as well as healthy and tasty food. The capital of Asmara is a pearl of architecture, where visitors can enjoy Italian cappuccinos in a traditional hospitable atmosphere. Eritreans are proud of their country. This is the country they built. The ongoing human trafficking crisis Every Eritrean in the diaspora longs to go back to their country one day. Why, then, are Eritrean youth leaving their country en 2 masse? This book seeks to answer this question. It identifies the harrowing trajectories that refugees from Eritrea follow to try and find a place that gives them some security. As this book demonstrates, such security is not easy to find. The long arm of the Eritrean regime in Asmara follows the refugees wherever they go. This book examines the vulnerability of Eritrean refugees to human trafficking for ransom. It describes their migration trajectories and the trauma, torture and dangers that Eritrean refugees are subjected to. Many do not survive. This books revisits the human trafficking crisis that emerged at the end of 2008, when many young Eritrean refugees were abducted from Eritrea, Sudan or elsewhere and trafficked to the Sinai. In 2012, Antonio Guterres, the then High Commissioner for Refugees, warned that thousands of Eritreans were leaving their country each month, despite a shoot-to-kill policy at the border. Guterres called for more protection in the refugee camp of Shagarab in eastern Sudan and identified that refugees were being kidnapped and taken to the Sinai. Human rights activist and radio presenter, Meron Estefanos, aired numerous interviews on radio, in which she spoke about the victims of human trafficking for ransom who were held in captivity, tortured and killed in the Sinai Desert. Sr Azezet and campaigners in Israel published the findings of thousands of interviews with patients in the clinic of Physicians for Human Rights, where former hostages came to seek help. ‘Human Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees between Life and Death’ and ‘The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond’ (Van Reisen, Estefanos, & Rijken, 2012, 2014) documented the phenomenon and gave a detailed description of the modus operandi used in this new form of human trafficking for ransom, also called ‘Sinai trafficking’. Subsequently, in 2015, anti-terrorist operations in the Sinai Desert inadvertently ended this cruel form of trafficking, although some reports have been received of refugees held in the Sinai in 2015 and 2016. An estimated 25,000–30,000 people were trafficked and tortured in the Sinai (between 2009 and 2013) and over USD 600 million in ransoms have been paid (Van Reisen et al., 2014). The 3 majority of victims of human trafficking for ransom held in the Sinai originated from Eritrea. Chapter 2 documents the journeys of refugees from Eritrea to the Sinai and other places. All of these routes include components of human trafficking for ransom. It looks at why particularly young people are leaving and tries to understand how the different journeys of smuggling and abduction are connected. This chapter locates the origin of Sinai trafficking within Eritrea and points to how a deliberate policy of impoverishment and human rights abuses has driven the people out of the country. It argues that the creation of a widespread illicit internal and cross-border black market, together with stringent controls on the movement of people, has...


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