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26 June 2013

Alliance speaks out against Sinai kidnappings

Alliance speaks out against Sinai kidnappings

Evangelical Alliance Wales is calling for urgent action from the government following news that the UK Eritrean community is paying tens of thousands of dollars in ransom money to criminal gangs who are holding their relatives hostage.

The relatives are kidnapped by gangs among the Bedouin in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, who exploit their vulnerability as they flee their native country to neighbouring states in the hope of finding asylum.

Victims' family members have been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to release their African relatives from the kidnappers.

In eight recent cases in Wales alone, over £70,000 was paid to kidnappers and traffickers demanding huge sums. Eritrean nationals who live in Wales say their relatives are often being tortured and some have been killed.

Jim Stewart, public affairs and advocacy officer for Evangelical Alliance Wales, said: "If you think that $120,000 [£70,000] has been paid out of Wales and at the minimum $1 million [£650,000] from the UK, you're talking about millions of dollars going from the West to criminal gangs in the Sinai region.

"When you think of the volatility of the region and the potential of the region to be destabilised - with gun-smuggling and a rise in radicalisation - we've got a very serious problem on our doorstep. We need to work hard to stop it."

The United Nations described the growth of the kidnap and people trafficking in Sinai as one of the most unreported humanitarian crises in the world.

It is believed thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from Eritrea have fallen into the hands of people traffickers and kidnappers as they try to make their way across the Sudan and Egypt towards Israel.

Although refugees are fleeing other countries in the region, such as Sudan and Ethiopia, the Evangelical Alliance Wales believes Eritreans are disproportionately targeted for a number of reasons.   For example, traffickers and kidnappers know that huge numbers of Eritrean refugees in the West means that the Eritrean Diaspora in the West will now have jobs and savings. Additionally, in Eritrean culture there is an obligation to help family members. The Eritrean government is also not currently strong in diplomacy, and which can render Eritrean refugees vulnerable.

Jim Stewart continued: "The sheer volume of money ending up in the hands of criminals in Sinai has the potential to create an international security issue in an already volatile region. We hope that the international community, as well as the countries directly involved, will place the crisis higher on their agenda and commit resources to stopping it."

A contact of the Alliance in Wales is an Eritrean man living in Cardiff whose nephew was held by tribesmen. Berhane (not his real name) met Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan and the BBC, revealing that his 26-year-old nephew was tortured in order to pressurise him to settle the ransom demand.

Berhane, who claimed asylum in 2008, gave £10,000 towards the £15,000 paid to the captors who held his nephew near the Eritrean and Sudan border. He told BBC Wales how his nephew had his back and arm broken while being held and that three others kidnapped with him were killed. He still fears for other family members and said that they paid through loans because: "If you report the kidnappers to the police or government, they kill your relative."

Many would have been heading for refugee camps of neighbouring eastern Sudan, now home to more than 90,000 people.

Kevin Brennan MP said: "I will put down parliamentary questions in the House of Commons about this and also find out what else the government is doing - and can do - to work with other governments and international organisations to tackle the problem. "We would urge anyone with firm evidence of kidnappers targeting UK residents to contact the UK Human Trafficking Centre which can be contacted through the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)."