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21 February 2013

Death in the Desert

Death in the Desert

The Alliance in Wales is organising the event ‘Death in the Desert’ in Cardiff on 26 March to highlight the plight of Eritrean refugees who are falling into the hands of people traffickers before being tortured, beaten and held for ransom by criminal gangs among the Bedouin in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

It represents a development in Wales for the Alliance to get involved in issues of international advocacy in a way that builds partnerships and engages refugee communities. It is important that, while on the one hand speaking up on controversial issues such as same-sex marriage, we are doing so in a way that does not alienate people from us who would otherwise be willing to work with us on issues of common concern.

Eritrea, a country of four million people was, until the creation of South Sudan, Africa’s youngest nation, achieving de facto independence from Ethiopia in 1991 and de jure independence two years later. Non-ending national service and repression of religious freedom are the two main reasons why Eritreans are leaving their country.

There are an estimated 700 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Wales, most of whom have arrived in the past four years since Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham became dispersal areas for asylum seekers under UK Border Agency’s new asylum model.

The current issue in the Sinai has drawn the attention of the world’s media, including, in the UK, BBC, the Times, the Guardian and the Independent, and, in America, CNN and the New York Times. In November, BBC Today’s Mike Thomson interviewed one of the Eritrean hostages and also one of the traffickers on air.

The current rate to secure an Eritrean’s freedom is $25,000 - 35,000, with kidnappers contacting relatives living in the West - where there is a sizeable Eritrean Diaspora - to pay the ransom. Two of the reasons why this international crime has been allowed to flourish as it has are because:

  1. there are high cultural expectations within the close-knit Eritrean community to help family members, and
  2. the Eritrean government has weak diplomatic ties, rendering its citizens vulnerable outside of the country.

Eritreans in Wales, including Christians, have not remained unaffected and there are at least eight individuals in Wales who have been contacted in the past four years by criminal gangs, demanding payment of money to secure the release of loved ones. One Eritrean Christian was contacted before Christmas, with news that his nephew was being held in Sinai. Eventually a ransom of £17,000 was paid, comprised of savings and loans, and the nephew’s freedom was secured.

The event on 26 March has the support of the Welsh Refugee Council and Oxfam Cymru and is being held in partnership with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs. The main speaker will be Dr. Khataza Gondwe from Christian Solidarity Worldwide. 

For more information contact Jim Stewart at j.stewart@eauk.org.

   Photo credit: Florian Prischl via Creative Commons.