Leading human rights organisations have received numerous reports of large scale human trafficking in the Sinai Peninsula, in Egypt, from as far back as 2009. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported on this issue, where it is currently estimated that between 1500 and 2000 people are still held, suffering rape and torture at the hands of traffickers. The UN have called this “one of the most unreported humanitarian crises in the world.”
Thousands of men, women and children, have been kidnapped from the Shagarab refugee camp in Sudan, and taken by force across the border into Egypt. They are sold on several times, suffering abuse and rape at the hands of those who take them. The victims change hands among a complex criminal network, consisting of local tribesmen, and facilitated by Eritrean traffickers, as well as, it is alleged, the complicity of the Sudanese government. Eventually, those who survive the journey, are sold on to Bedouin traffickers, held captive in purpose made camps in the Sinai desert.
The accounts of survivors from these camps are shocking: rape and torture of men, women and children are commonplace. Victims are kept in appalling conditions, chained together and held at gunpoint. Many recount being made to call their families and beg them to pay for their release, whilst their captors tortured them. The traffickers demand huge sums of money from the victims families, leading many to sell their homes and face destitution, in desperate attempts to save their loved ones.
The Sinai is an expansive desert region that is notorious for its lawlessness. A military zone, it was previously occupied by Israel. The number of Egyptian security forces in the area is now regulated as part of the terms of the treaty between the two countries. The area is a renowned hotspot for African refugees, fleeing the continent on their way to Israel or crossing onto Europe. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak refused to acknowledge the trafficking problem, and the criminal networks have escalated, with evidence of arms trafficking and organ harvesting also emerging.
There are currently be as many as 2000 African refugees held captive by Bedouin in the Sinai. At least a further 4000 people are believed to have passed through the hands of these same traffickers, and it is unknown whether they have now been released or whether they were murdered.
Voice of Freedom advocates for formerly trafficked women, who take refuge at the Ma’agan safe house in Tel Aviv. Many of the women are Eritrean refugees, who have escaped or been released by traffickers in the Sinai. Some arrive with their children, and others have been forced to leave loved ones behind. The women at the Ma’agan will find shelter, but their futures often remain uncertain, with many facing deportation.
Starting in October, Voice of Freedom will provide a series of participatory photography workshops, allowing the women an opportunity to speak out about their experiences and advocate against trafficking. Their images and their stories add their voice to the global debate on human trafficking, a voice which both those who lobby government, and those who are lobbied, say is missing. Their experiences will encourage those with the power to influence change to acknowledge the human consequences of ignoring this problem.
To find out more about how Voice of Freedom will fight trafficking, visit here: http://ourvoiceoffreedom.wordpress.com/gallery-links/how-will-this-work-fight-trafficking/
Voice of Freedom has the support of NGO partners in the UK and in Israel, and are managed by expert in the field, PhotoVoice. The small and dedicated team have spent two years preparing for the project at their own expense. Now, the programme is finally in place, but there is little time to raise the remaining £1900 needed to fully fund the workshops.
If you would like to support the campaign and/ or donate you can do so here: http://bit.ly/vofsupport
There is no amount too small and your pledge will help to fund the fight to end human trafficking, a crime which has no place in the modern world.
Leila Segal, speaking at the ERSA conference at Amnesty International 16 August 2013, about the power of photography in expressing and advocating around difficult emotion:
Voice of Freedom is proud to be working with and supported by the Eritrean community in London and Europe:
Khedijah Ali, shows her support for Voice of Freedom.
Eritrean activist, Feruz, supports Voice of Freedom
To find out more, or to help promote this campaign, please see:
Amnesty report, 2013:
Human Rights Watch report, 2012: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/09/05/egypt-end-sinai-nightmare-migrants