By Diaa Hadid (CP)
JAFFA, Israel — An Israeli rights group said Wednesday that Bedouin smugglers in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have raped dozens of African women who they promised to smuggle into Israel over the past year.
At least 86 women from Eritrea reported they were raped while in Sinai, which borders Israel, said Ran Cohen, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.
“Some of them are held separately just for this cause (rape),” said Azizet Kidane, an Eritrean nun who interviewed the women on behalf of the organization. None of the women agreed to talk to reporters.
Kidane said the number of raped women was likely higher because many women were ashamed to discuss sexual violence.
Thousands of African migrants cross Egypt’s Sinai desert each year in hopes of reaching Israel. Their numbers have increased in the past year as Mediterranean countries make it harder to get into Europe by boat, Cohen said.
The migrants include Africans searching for work and refugees fleeing violent governments. Israel is grappling with the issue, torn between helping the migrants and worrying about the effects of the presence of growing numbers of non-Jews on the character of the state.
The rights group said male migrants were chained, whipped, deprived of water, buried in the sand, prodded with electric rods and left in metal containers. The group based its findings on interviews conducted with around 220 Eritrean asylum seekers.
“They call the families (of the asylum seekers) on satellite phones and make them hear their sons and daughters scream,” Cohen said.
Yemane Tesfom, a 32-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker, said he and a group of several dozen other men were held in chains at a Sinai compound. They were only released to work.
Tesfom said he saw eight men die from dehydration, exhaustion and beatings. He showed the AP scars on his leg from where he said he was beaten so badly he needed to be hospitalized for five months in Israel.
The rights group is asking Israel’s government to allow the Africans access to health services.
Israel’s government expects about 13,000 illegal migrants from Africa will enter this year, joining about 20,000 others who came between 2006 and 2009. Israel is building a fence along its desert border with Egypt to cut down smuggling and infiltrations by migrants and militants.
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