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A journey to survive...A look at the dangerous plight of immigrants in Sinai's desert

2014-01-23

WARNING: THE VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES OF PHYSICAL ABUSE

They retrace the steps immortalized in the Biblical account of Moses, and his journey to the promised land. But in modern times, the journey for Eritrean immigrants and refugees often ends in suffering and despair.

Waiting for these refugees, throughout the Sinai Desert, lurks the danger of being kidnapped and even killed by Bedouin traffickers. Dr. Alga Fessaha has witnessed their suffering first hand.

ALGA FESSAHA
Eritrean activist
"They have a nightmare. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they get up in the night and they shout, and all those things. So it's a horrible life, even after all that.”

In her words, they go through hell. Human and organ trafficking has become a booming and lucrative business in the Sinai. But it's not just the Bedouins; scrupulous smugglers, and even security forces that turn a blind eye, take part. 

Even so, Dr. Fessaha takes her chances. Several times a year, she travels to Sinai, to rescue kidnapped immigrants, and those jailed by security forces. The risk is massive.

ALGA FESSAHA
Eritrean activist
"They will kill us, definitely. They will kill them, and they would kill me for sure. I hope it will never happen, but I have to do it, because I have to rescue these human beings, they are human beings. Actually, they are my people.”

Their reasons to leave are many, poverty, hunger, an oppressive military regime. But even for the people that don't fall pray to traffickers, reaching Israel or Europe is no guarantee of an easier life.

DON MUSSEI ZERAI
President, Agenzia Habeshia
"They come here seeking freedom, rights and protection. But often what they find doesn't match their expectations.”

Overcrowded shelters, or long bureaucratic processes have become a norm. One just needs to take a look at Lampedusa in Italy. At that point,Don Mussei Zerai says their faith sees them through.

Both Don Zerai and Dr. Fessaha are advocates for change. They say establishing humanitarian corridors, and reforming the asylum process to make it easier can help prevent deaths. But in the meantime, awareness is their best tool.

DON MUSSEI ZERAI
President, Agenzia Habeshia
"If people don't know, if institutions aren't informed, they can't intervene.”

For her part, Dr. Fessaha continues planning her next mission. In past visits to Sinai, she's managed to rescue dozens of people. They are then placed in the care of the United Nations, and resettled.

But her help can only go so far. She recognizes that until there's some real change, the death toll for Sinai trafficking victims, even those in the Mediterranean, will continue at a steady pace.


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