UNHCR concern at refugee kidnappings, disappearances in eastern Sudan

Briefing Notes, 25 January 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 25 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is seeing rising incidents of abductions and disappearances of mainly Eritrean refugees, allegedly involving border tribes, in eastern Sudan. This is occurring in and around refugee camps.

Over the last two years we have seen people disappearing from the Shagarab camps some of them kidnapped, and others believed paying to be smuggled elsewhere. Those who are kidnapped are often held for ransom or trafficked onwards for the purpose or forced marriage, sexual exploitation or bonded labour.

Because of the mixed forced / voluntary nature of the problem, data accuracy is an issue. Our Sudan office reports 619 people having left the camps over the past two years, with 551 of these in 2012. In addition are further but unconfirmed cases.

The latest kidnapping incidents, involving four refugee women occurred in the Shagarab camps during the night and early morning of 22 January. Refugees in the camp, which hosts 29,445, had also reported the kidnapping of a refugee man the previous week. In anger at these incidents, some refugees attacked members of one of the local tribes who they thought were responsible for the abductions. The ensuing violence left several injured among the host population and the refugees. Calm has since been restored.

The risk of being kidnapped is highest for Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers as they enter Eastern Sudan. Based on numerous reports and individual interviews, the main actors responsible for smuggling and human trafficking from Eastern Sudan into Egypt are local tribesmen in Eastern Sudan and in the Sinai, as well as some criminal gangs. Some asylum seekers are kidnapped at the border between Eritrea and Sudan, before reaching the camps, while others are kidnapped in and around the camps in Eastern Sudan. Those who deliberately resort to smugglers appear to do so either to enter Sudan or for onward movement into Egypt or Israel. In many cases they also end up being abused by their smugglers who sell them to traffickers or detain them for ransom.

UNHCR is working with the Sudanese authorities, the International Office for Migration and other humanitarian agencies to reduce the risk of abductions and kidnappings in the area. The Government of Sudan has already deployed additional police and we are supporting the authorities to improve overall security, including with the construction and rehabilitation of police stations, provision of vehicles and communication equipment. UNHCR is also assisting the refugees in the Shagarab camps with setting up a community-based policing system to reduce security risks.

We are also providing psycho-social counselling to survivors of trafficking and provide legal aid to those in detention by advising them on judicial procedures and securing their release

UNHCR calls on all national and international actors to step up efforts to counter criminal groups seeking to exploit refugees and asylum-seekers and to reduce the risks of kidnapping, smuggling and trafficking of people.

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