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19 Chapter 2 Human Trafficking in the Sinai: Mapping the Routes and Facilitators Mirjam Van Reisen, Meron Estefanos & Lena Reim Let alone telling these stories to strangers, will we ourselves believe these stories once they are past? (Interview, Van Reisen with Zecarias Gerrima, Skype, 23 December 2016) I fear that the Sinai [trafficking] is going to happen again. [...] Because of the war [Egyptian military intervention in the Sinai], it has been impossible to bring people into the Sinai. [...] My fear is that once the military operation is over, it might start again, because they miss the money they were making – millions and millions. (Interview, Reim with Meron Estefanos, Skype, 18 December 2016) Introduction Human trafficking for ransom was first documented in the Sinai in 2008 (Van Reisen, Estefanos & Rijken, 2012 & 2014). The perpetrators have never been brought to justice. The root causes that created the pre-conditions for this crime to occur – including the human rights situation in Eritrea – have not changed, leading to fears that Sinai trafficking could re-emerge at a later stage. Furthermore, these practices have continued in the Sinai and elsewhere in North Africa and the Horn of Africa in various forms and continue to explicitly target Eritrean nationals due to their particular vulnerability, as well as their ability to collect sizeable sums of ransom through family in the diaspora (see Chapters 3 and 4). This chapter explores the trafficking routes to the Sinai, where this practice first emerged. It looks at how Eritreans were abducted 20 or smuggled from Eritrea and other places, the routes via which they were trafficked, and the actors who orchestrated and facilitated this business. Emphasis is placed on the involvement of state actors, particularly Eritrean state officials. As the full scope of human trafficking for ransom in the Sinai came to light – with an estimated 30,000 people trafficked between 2009 and 2013 at an estimated value of over USD 600 million (Van Reisen et al., 2014) – it became clear that the involvement of state officials must be greater than originally assumed. Among others, the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea (hereinafter called the ‘Monitoring Group’) has explained that a business of this size could not possibly function without the knowledge and assistance of government officials (UNSC, 2011). In fact, the Monitoring Group found evidence of the involvement of Eritrean and Sudanese officials in the facilitation of human smuggling alongside the smuggling of weapons (UNSC, 2011). This evidence is supported by the interviews conducted for this chapter. Earlier publications have identified the involvement of the Sudanese and Egyptian military and other armed groups, and have pointed to the authorities of these countries as responsible for allowing such crimes to happen on their soil (Human Rights Watch, 2014a). What has not yet been described is the involvement of Eritrean officials and authorities in human trafficking in the Sinai (as opposed to the smuggling that feeds it). This chapter examines their role, alongside that of other actors, and their responsibility for this crime. The work of Van Reisen, Estefanos & Rijken, particularly, Human Trafficking in the Sinai, Refugees between Life and Death (2012) and The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond (2014), function as the basis of this chapter. In addition, this chapter makes use of interviews with survivors of Sinai trafficking and former officials involved in the trade, as well as resource persons. These interviews were conducted as part of a larger research project on Sinai survivors. Former officials interviewed include the former Deputy Minister of Finance, Kubrom Dafla Hosabay, who was granted asylum in the Netherlands. 21 Interviews were also carried out with other former officials of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the political party of the Eritrean government. Furthermore, interviews were conducted with family members involved in the collection and payment of ransoms. These interviews were carried out face-to-face or by Skype in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The hypotheses presented in this chapter should be read as deductions developed from the analysis of the experiences presented in the interviews; these need further investigation and do not constitute proof of facts. Deliberate impoverishment and control: Establishing human trafficking structures In order to understand human trafficking from Eritrea, including Sinai trafficking, and the role of government officials from Eritrea and other countries in this crime, we must place the phenomenon within the wider context of Eritrea’s illicit economy. Eritrea’s economy is run without a budget, without a Central Bank and without a statistics bureau...


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