Eritrean refugees kidnapped, killed: UNHCR chief

 12 January 2012

Eritrean refugees are being kidnapped and sometimes killed by human traffickers, the head of the UN’s refugee agency said in Sudan on Thursday, calling for global action against the crimes.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, spoke after a tour of the Shagarab refugee camp which receives about 2,000 asylum-seekers every month, largely from neighbouring Eritrea where many have fled military service.

“Taking profit of the desperate situation of many Eritreans that are leaving the country we have now a network, a criminal network, of smugglers and traffickers,” Guterres told reporters.

“People are kidnapped for ransom,” and in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula where some end up, they have been “killed for the traffic of organs”, he said.

To deal with the “extremely serious” problem, the UNHCR will work with Sudanese authorities and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental body, to strengthen local police with additional vehicles, computers and other equipment, Guterres said.

“This is not only a problem of Sudan” because the gangs are global, he added, and countering their “very lucrative” activity requires combined action by different governments.

UNHCR is seeking $2 million from donors for its joint project with the IOM to research the trafficking and kidnapping issue, improve security in the refugee camps and develop local authorities’ ability to deal with the problem.

Young migrants are turning to illegal transportation by smugglers to reach the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the Middle East or Europe, where they hope to find greater opportunities, UNHCR said in a briefing paper.

But the agency said it received “numerous reports” last year of refugees and others being held for thousands of dollars in ransom.

“They’re being taken through the country by criminal groups and subject to kidnapping. This is happening here in the east of Sudan regularly,” said Felix Ross, the UNHCR’s senior protection officer.

“Daily, human trafficking is happening here,” one Eritrean refugee told AFP.


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