Facing a corrupt and repressive government, about 36,000 Eritreans fled last year into the eastern Sudan where they faced harsh weather and the threat of kidnapping. Human trafficking has become a serious threat for these Eritrean refugees. Bedouin people-trafficking gangs find weary travelers then kidnap, torture, and often kill them. The gangs do this hoping to extract ransom from their victims’ families.
Despite the dangers that Eritreans face, many still choose to cross into Sudan, looking for freedom. According to the BBC, Eritrea has one of the most corrupt governments; it “has been accused of repression and of hindering the development of democracy.”
The BBC recently published a piece about Philemon Semere, an Eritrean refugee and a victim of human trafficking. He crossed into Eastern Sudan and was immediately captured by one of these human trafficking gangs. He was thrown with several others into the back of a truck and transported North almost 2,000 miles to a house in the Sinai peninsula. He said this about his ordeal: “Words are not enough to say how good I’m doing right now. I’m so relieved after everything I went through. Death was very near to me and at one point all hope was gone.” Philemon was frequently forced to call his family members and beg for the ransom of $33,000. While they were tortured often, it was always significantly worse when the victims were on the phone with family members. Philemon said that the first time he called his mother, “She heard my screams and couldn’t stop crying. I was crying too. We both just cried and cried until we had no tears left.” He explained that relatives were more likely to pay the ransoms if they could hear the victims “screaming and crying in pain.”
Philemon was held captive with 19 other Eritreans, but more than half died in captivity. Philemon was released after his poverty-stricken family scraped together $13,200, and two other captives paid $10,000 on his behalf. Philemon made it to Cairo along with hundreds of others who underwent to the same horrors as he did. When he thinking of his ordeal and what he plans to do in the future, Philemon said, “God brought me out of the deepest darkness and only he knows what lies ahead for me now.”
For more information, please see Joel Millman’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, Ruthless Kidnapping Rings Reach From Desert Sands to U.S. Cities.