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Trafficking in the Sinai Desert

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 28 November 2013

The Petition of Peter Lytton Cobbold, Ginette Lytton Cobbold, Sr. Natalia Gomes, Anthony Clarkstone, Nifleda Wessling and Aemro Iyasu,

Declares that criminal gangs in Egypt’s Sinai Desert are kidnapping, trafficking and brutally torturing refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from Eritrea and Sudan.

Amnesty International reported on 1 April 2013:

“many people held captive in Sinai have been subjected to extreme violence and brutality while waiting for ransoms to be paid by families. Including beatings with metal chains and whips; burning with cigarette butts or heated rubber and metal objects; suspension from the ceiling; pouring gasoline over the body and setting it on fire...being urinated on and having finger nails pulled out. Rape of men and women, and other forms of sexual violence have been frequently reported.”

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons presses the United Nations to identify and apprehend traffickers in the Sinai, and to assist and protect victims of trafficking.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Frank Field, Official Report, 22 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 1p .]

[P001241]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:

I understand and sympathise with those who have signed the petition. I share your concerns about the reports of the treatment of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Sudanese refugees in Sinai, many of whom are trying to get to Europe and Israel. The British Government strongly condemn all instances of violence and particularly the killing of innocent people who have sought to leave their homes for a better future. We have raised our concerns about the treatment of migrants, including refugees being held hostage in the Sinai, with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on many occasions, most recently at Ambassadorial level in Cairo. Former Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, right hon. Alistair Burt MP raised the issue during an official visit to Israel in late 2012. My staff has also been in contact with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cairo, which deals with asylum seekers in Egypt, a task delegated to them by the Egyptian Government.

FCO officials have discussed this issue with the Eritrean Embassy in London, the Eritrean Government in Asmara, and with various members of the Eritrean Diaspora in the UK. In July 2013 the Minister for Africa met with the Eritrean Foreign Minister, and earlier this month, FCO officials, along with officials from the National Crime Agency and West Yorkshire Police, held discussions about the growing problem of human trafficking with various members of the Eritrean Diaspora. We are following up on these discussions by looking at the possibility of providing practical support to Eritrea’s anti-trafficking and victim protection efforts. We continue to urge the Eritrean Government to bring to justice any Eritreans involved in human trafficking and have taken every opportunity to raise the need for political, economic and human rights reforms with the Eritrean Government.

The British Government have encouraged the Egyptian authorities to find a solution to the complex and interrelated security challenges in the Sinai, including kidnapping. A lasting solution to these challenges will require a joined-up response, including the security forces, but also encouraging improved levels of engagement and opportunity for the local Bedouin population.