Home / Awate Team / Egypt Seals Main Human Trafficking Route To Israel

Egypt Seals Main Human Trafficking Route To Israel

In the last two years Israeli made it impossible for refugees and migrants to stay in its territories, and difficult to cross its borders, now Egypt has finally came to its help by securing its borders. Lately Egypt has began to consolidate its control over North Sinai border with Palestinian Gaza Strip and Israel. That section of the border was heavily used by human traffickers and arms smugglers.

A 500 meter open buffer zone between the Egyptian Rafah and Palestinian Rafah was established last week on the North in the Egyptian side of the Sinai Desert adjacent to the Gaza Strip. Residents of Rafah in the planned buffer zone were given 48 hours to vacate their homes and since last Thursday Egyptian security forces took full control of the area.

According to sources affiliated to the Egyptian government, a year ago Egyptian authorities have informed the residents of Rafah about the decision to create the buffer zone. On October 28, the Egyptian Army began to move the estimated 12, 000 affected residents and demolished their houses. Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies said the residents compensation for their properties was set at 1,200 Egyptian Pounds (apx. US$168) per square meter.

In 1977 the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat signed a peace agreement under the auspices of president Carter. Based on the Camp David Agreement, Egyptian forces were not allowed to have presence in Sinai.

For almost forty-years Sinai was no man’s land, and during the last decade, criminals took advantage of the lax security and the Sinai desert became a breeding ground of extremist political groups and criminals who traded in arms, trafficked humans, and human body parts.

The criminals expanded their operations to Sudan and Eritrea and created a lucrative human smuggling business and thousands of Eritreans lost their lives in the hands of human traffickers. Hundreds were raped, tortured, and often when they couldn’t pay ransom, their body parts were extracted in makeshift tents. The dead were buried in shallow graves in the desert where wild animals fed on their remains.

Despite the difficulties in surviving the hardships in the Sinai Desert, tens of thousands made it to Israel after their relatives, mostly residing in the West, paid ransoms as high as $40,000 per person to the human traffickers.

In July 8 the Israeli forces began to relentlessly bomb Gaza allegedly to stop rockets being launched into Israel by Hamas, a Palestinian party fighting the Israel State. When the bombardment stopped two months later, it turned Gaza’s private and public buildings into rubble; about 2000 Palestinians from Gaza were killed.

For many years Israel has been complaining that arms were being smuggled through secret tunnels crossing from the Egyptian side to Gaza. Many such tunnels were found in houses in Rafah that the Egyptians demolished a few days ago.

The recent move to deploy Egyptian forces in Sinai mainly helps to secure Israel borders. The buffer zone creates a favorable monitoring environment and it will certainly stop the smuggling of people, mainly Eritreans, who used to be trafficked to Israel.

In its July 17, 2011, The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia And Eritrea reported the following:

(a) Human and Arms Smuggling: “Arms trafficking from western Eritrea is just one component of a much broader, and highly profitable, smuggling operation overseen by General Teklai Kifle ‘Manjus’, Commander of the western military zone. His principal Sudanese counterpart in this cross-border activity is Mabrouk Mubarak Salim, [the current Minister of State for Transport of the Sudan], who is also a wealthy merchant and former leader of the now defunct “Free Lions” rebel group that once formed part of the Sudanese “Eastern Front” opposition alliance supported by Eritrea. Salim, an ethnic Rashaida, works closely with other well-established Rashaida smugglers, who operate with the full knowledge of Government officials on both sides of the border. An Eritrean source, who claims to have long been engaged in people smuggling activities on behalf of General Teklai Kifle “Manjus” told the Monitoring Group that he was first deployed into Egypt in a convoy carrying weapons in 2008. According to the source, his contacts confirm that Eritrean agents based in Egypt were continuing to coordinate routine trafficking of people and arms via Sinai in 2011.”

There were at least two instances where allegedly Israeli fighter jets bombed a caravan of trucks and four wheel drive vehicles in the North of Sudan. The convoy was allegedly carrying arms and people. The caravan was owned by human trafficking gangs operating around the Sudanese and Eritrean border. Tens of Eritreans were killed in the attack.

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Human and Arms Smuggling

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  • Rodab

    News you may have missed.
    Dr. Daniel Rezene disclosed recently that a payment of $85.6M was made out of our government’s account in Zurich to a Kwaiti oil company (this was in 2012, not sure why it is being ‘declassified’ now). Apparently the two sides had a long running payment dispute. It is said the original amount owed was $66M. But over time the amount swelled due to interest and legal fees.
    I hope Dr. Daniel will address ithis in detail and at appropriate time.

    Got any additional info on this?

    • haileTG

      Hey Rodab,

      haha…you must have missed it, but it has been widely covered by Eri opposition news groups at the time. The info. was also published here at awate (click here) back in 2009!!

      • Rodab

        Lol, ok Hailat. It kind of rings a bell now

        • haileTG

          Hi Rodab,

          Very likely! I really was impressed with his performance on the issue of COI at paltalk a fortnight ago. I am sure he knows more than he is giving away.

  • Ambassador

    I missing something here? Did the trafficked humans not need to cross the Suez Canal
    or any part of the Egyptian red sea, for that matter, to get to Sinai – which are
    supposedly heavily guarded and have a significant Egyptian military presence? I
    don’t think having Egyptian soldiers in Sinai will have any effect on the
    lucrative human trafficking business conducted with the full knowledge and
    participation of government officials. Eritreans are just another Nasaras for Egyptians.

  • dawit

    Selam All,
    “Despite the difficulties in surviving the hardships in the Sinai Desert, tens of thousands made it to Israel after their relatives, mostly residing in the West, paid ransoms as high as $40,000 per person to the human traffickers.”
    It seems to me based on the above quote only the rich can escape from Eritrea, those people who have relative in the West and raise such a fortune to human traffickers, while the vast majority of poor Eritrean youth are staying at home and building their country.
    I wonder what kind of business could you establish with $40,000 in Eritrea! Why pay so much risk and money to end up in Israel or the West only to clean toilets for the rest of your life? It is beyond my imagination.

    • haileTG

      Selam dawit,

      “only the rich can escape from Eritrea” couldn’t be more wrong because not all escapee cross Sinai. Ten times more are stationed in Ethio and Sudanese borders. And the fee through the dangerouse sea crossing is much less ($1500).

      “I wonder what kind of business could you establish with $40,000 in Eritrea!” betrays your lack of knowledge in the objective situation in Eritrea. You can’t invest in Eritrea, it is off limits. You can only send containers of rice, sugar, oil and the likes. Ask investors that were chased away and those who participated in the last investment meetings chaired by hgdef.

      “Why pay so much risk and money to end up in Israel or the West only to clean toilets for the rest of your life?” That shows the uselessness of the regime more than anything else. That is the hieght of its achievement interms of making Eritrea hospitable to Eritreans. One would chose any thing to avoid the nasty PFDJ.


    • Shum

      Hello Dawit,

      HaileTG gave you a very thoughtful response. I’m interested to hear your response to his rebuttal. But I’m curious why you are wondering about the motivations behind people leaving the country in this magnitude. Do you have relatives or friends who have left? If so, they can tell you straight up if you give them the space to speak. But more importantly, why are the motivations of our people questioned during this period in our history, but not during the armed struggle? Brother, sometimes you’ve got to cut the truth with Occam’s razor.

      • dawit

        Dear Shum,

        I am not here to argue and rebuttal business, I wrote a comment and raised few questions for people to respond and Haile did, and I am not to question argue with his response. Haile knows my stand and I know his stand. So let me answer your question directly, if I can based my perception, understanding and limited experience of the sad situation of the recent Eritrean youth exodus.

        1. Do you have relatives or friends who have left?

        As a matter of fact I have a nice and a nephew who took the adventure, against my advice. My nephew left from Addis Ababa where there is ‘plenty of jobs and democracy’ and my nice left from Eritrea after she flank her 8th. grade exam. My nephew is stuck in a refugee camp in Belgium trying to get his asylum for nearly two years, and my nice made it to Sweden and she is accepted as refugee she is collecting money from the government, but I am sure she will be cleaning toilet for the rest of her life.

        2, Why are the motivations of our people questioned during this period in our history, but not during the armed struggle?

        During the armed struggle young people left their home with a purpose to bring independence for their country against a colonizer, that was imprisoning, killing and rape their people. They knew the danger and the risk of joining the armed struggle, but they accepted the starvation and deprivation of modern life and they chose to sacrifice including their only one life for that purpose. They stood up right in their land and confronted their enemy for what they believed right. So my brother your sister, uncle, cousin, friend, classmate were one of those, 65,000 lost their lives and over 20,000 lost their limbs, eye sights or their hearing disabled and paralyzed for life for the independence of Eritrea . We didn’t questioned their motives as society and we accepted it the sacrifice to be paid for our national independence that was unfairly denied to us by the world as a society. Our Tegadelti did not leave home or their country wandering aimlessly through deserts and seas aimlessly to end up washing toilets in a foreign land. You know and I know there is a coordinated plot or attack against Eritrea as a country, that is what our government tells us and I believe it. If you don’t believe it that is your right and you can give any excuse like absence of democracy and free elections, indefinite national service etc and paint Eritrea as the hell on Earth as the motivation to leave the country. But I believe there is a hidden agenda against the youth not stay at home and build their country to make it economically independent and stand on its feet, just like conspiracy that denied our legitimate request to have our own country..

        I believe many of the young Eritreans youth may not know the danger and the prospect of leaving their country. Perhaps they are approached by human smugglers who promised them they will safely take them to Israel or Europe where they will make a lot of money and they believe these people and leave their homes. Their ordeal starts right after they cross ‘the militarized border with order to shoot to kill’ placed by Eritrean government to make them “slaves”, to make terraces, build dams, roads for ‘Dictator Isaias”! Somehow those Eritrean border guards don’t know how to shoot straight, so they spared those “Eritrean slaves” to cross the border. Then you are coached to start your asylum application process, telling how you were abused in the national service, how the soldiers came raped you and put you in prison when they caught you praying at your home with the bible open in your hand etc. Then you tell the asylum interviewers how you run away at the border while the bullets were flying over your head right and left! So they register you at UNHCR camp conveniently located near the border. UNHCR and the country of asylum increase their refugee statistic by one or ten or hundred for the day, request or appeal for budget increase from UN or some western charity organizations to take care of the new influx of refugees! You sit in the refugee camp doing nothing and idle and getting bored and writing letters to your relative for money explaining you unfortunate situation in a refugee camps. Some of your relative will send you few dollars, you collect those pay a smuggler and stand you long journey through the desert and crossing seas to reach the promise land Israel or Europe, US, Canada through south America, to collect your own dollars.

        Now I don’t deny that there are internal forces that motivate the young to leave in large numbers such as the economic conditions in the country, the indefinite military service, which is complicated by external forces, and politically motivated military and economic sanctions, false promises of fortune outside your country and finally the heard mentality, where people follow others without analyzing the consequences, something like keeping up the Johnsons’ mentality, that you don’t want to be left behind from you friends, so you follow them without realizing the consequences of your action.
        Now Mr. Shum, let me reverse your question to you. Why did the world news outlets, UN agencies, governments kept silence when 100s of thousands Eritreans crossed their borders to be refugees in Sudan and throughout, ME, Europe and America while napalm gases and bombs were been dropped daily on all corners of Eritrea for decades? Why there was no Commissions of human right abuses or why churches and journalists failed to tell the world of the atrocities committed in those days? Can you say confidently and honestly that there is more danger for Eritreans today, than the three decades of Ethiopia occupation to run away from their homes and refugees?


        • Shum

          Hello Dawit,

          Thanks for taking the time to reply. In your rebuttal, if I may call it that, to question #2, you said “During the armed struggle young people left their home with a purpose to bring independence for their country against a colonizer, that was imprisoning, killing and rape their people.” The people that stayed did that, not the people that left. The people that left went to the West and most are still there like me and you, I presume. Yes, they left for the reasons you mentioned. But you never said to yourself “oh some of those people just used that as an excuse”. You trusted their stories. But you don’t trust the people leaving now. I’ll grant you that some people did as you said in terms of being coached on applications, etc. But the people are experiencing hardships that are a direct result of the government’s actions and they have no rights or ability to change it. That’s a political problem. But you’re putting the blames for the conditions of our country all on outside parties because you believe the government’s version of it.

          Our armed struggle was about the people vs an illegitimate government. But you’re choosing the opposite side this time around. Our government is imprisoning and killing people. There are numerous cases of this. I don’t think you doubt that. Forget people he doesn’t know, he has arrested people who were with him during the founding of EPLF while they were in their 20s and accused them of treason. Do you believe him without question on that? That’s unacceptable in today’s world.

          As for the world conspiracies that’s keeping our country down, that says more about PFDJ than the world. If the problems in our country can be attributed to Ethiopia, the UN, America, Human rights organizations, Djibouti, Sudan, Yemen and all of the countries that voted for the sanctions, then you’re saying PFDJ has no control over our country. You’re saying it is ineffective. A responsible government doesn’t just take responsibility for the positive things that happen, it should take responsibility for the negative things that happen as well. If you and I accept the premise that you laid out in regards to who is responsible for all of these things, then you have to accept that this is an ineffective, feckless government. They can’t say they’re protecting our sovereignty and then lay out a long list of countries and organizations that are violating our sovereignty. They can’t say they are strengthening our country when they shift the responsibility to these external bodies.

          The reason why I wanted you to respond to Haile is because you said “I wonder what kind of business could you establish with $40,000 in Eritrea! Why pay so much risk and money to end up in Israel or the West only to clean toilets for the rest of your life? It is beyond my imagination.” Haile had very good response. He was describing to you the natural results of a heavy-handed command economy. And I felt it would be good for the Awate forum to learn something from the back and forth between you two.

          As for cleaning toilets, most people don’t aspire to do things like that, but it’s an honest living, brother. For most people, it’s a stepping stone. And even if it’s not, at least they can live a life where they can be free or raise a family that will one day do better than them. But the way you word it is as if you’ve discounted them. With no people, there is no country. Governments come and go, but the people will always be there. Is it fair to talk about these people coming to the West when you and I have the resources and means to return to Eritrea, but don’t?

          Our people live in a country where no one protests; no one provides an alternative voice in the media; no congress meets to pass laws; no courts challenge executive or legislative power; people disappear without question; your ability to do business is stifled; your choices in education are limited; your family structure disrupted. All of these things happened before the sanctions. None of these things have to take place to counteract sanctions or whatever the world is conspiring to do against Eritrea. In fact, on the contrary, the opposite should happen to counteract any external threats. We need a working government that discusses and debates and passes laws, makes decisions through consultation. A good honest government doesn’t discourage this kind of infrastructure. If you look at the behavior that Saay laid out in his recent article and observed the behavior of our government over the past decade, you can see what happens when it is run on the whims of a dictator.

          • dawit

            Dear Shum;
            Thanks for your response, I am sorry I dont have the time to answer the many question you raised from my comment to your questins. But watch the followin story and plaese tell me if this a life you wish for your sister who left her home and country because she could not go along with her stepmother?
            What will be the future of her children without education? Do you think their chances of making it in life, better in exile than in Eritrea under dictatorship government? Complaining day in day out about the Eritrean government is not helping the vast majority Eritrean people who end up as refugees! It is better for them to stay in their country what ever the hardship sharing what ever little resources they have. When you and I left we didnot have a country, today we have a country. That is a different situations than when we left. Please I did not say washing toilet as some undignified way making a living, I was refering the choice they will have whent they left their country in todays economic and political conditions in the developed world for people leaving their country without any meaningful education or skills. You wrote “We need a working government that discusses and debates and passes laws, makes decisions through consultation”. I totally agree with that. But this will not happen if we constantly threaten the government to erradicate it by plotting with external forces to overthrow it. It will take any measure to preserve itself. Now Shume we can critisize the Eritrean government from our safe distance and we can measure its performances using a yard stick from our safe places, countries that passed through much worst situation in their history for centuries to reach the level of democracy and economy where they are now, but that is not helping for people like Semhar and her children in exile. I am sure the children in Eritrea have much better future than Semhar’s .

          • haileTG

            Hi dawit

            Suppose you’re right and those abroad end up worse off than those left behind. So, if your basic argument is that the refugees only left for greener pastures, given that according to you Eritrea turns out to be greener in the end, why don’t they go back? I.e. even when they are offered money to do so? Even some go as far as needlessly killing themselves to avoid going back!

            I think the argument could have been made sound if you were to say that those refugees get quickly better off and serve as pull factors. The lady in your video was so valued to feature in a news network and before you know it she will be means assessed, her kids sent to school and be given more assistance. That would never be the case in Eritrea. Again, she is from the Sudan where she grew up from age 8 with her step mum. Not your average of the close to 350 Eritreans that entered Ethiopia on Nov. 4th 2014 alone.

            There are many examples of those and here you chose an unrepresentative item. What is wrong dawit, don’t you like our people or something:)