- Desperate refugees trying to cross the lawless region risk having their organs cut out while still alive by ruthless doctors
- Action taken by local tribes has helped stem the horrifying trade
- Human traffickers demanded $20,000 to release their captives from their torture camps but the fee has now risen to $35,000 to $60,000
By Jill Reilly
PUBLISHED: 11:05 EST, 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 01:43 EST, 21 September 2012
The world was horrified last year when it hit the headlines that desperate refugees trying to cross the Sinai Desert were having their organs snatched while still alive by ruthless doctors.
But it has now emerged that human traffickers in the lawless region are torturing babies in an attempt to force families to pay extortionate ransom fees.
Desperate refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea put their trust in smugglers to get them across the border into Israel, but instead they are sold to the Bedouins and taken to torture camps.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
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A human aid organisation showed a photo of Cecile, left, a baby who was born in a Bedouin torture camp. After she was released her mother said that the man who fathered the child her inflicting burns, right, that reached her skull bone to force relatives to pay a ransom
A CNN documentary, A Stand in the Sinai, part of the network’s Freedom Project revealed if their relatives do not pay a ransom release fee, the women are frequently raped while the men are tortured – sometimes the abuse is played over the phone to their distraught relatives.
The Sinai Peninsula is under the control of the desert-dwelling clans so police rarely ever venture into the area.
During the report a human aid organisation showed the team a photo of Cecile, a baby who was born in a Bedouin torture camp – her mother had been mercilessly raped by one of the men.
After the pair were released and made it to safety, her mother said that the man who fathered the young girl tortured the child, inflicting burns that reached her skull bone to force relatives to pay a ransom.
The mother and child are now safe and Cecile received medical treatment for her seeping wounds.
Since the organ snatching was revealed, an alliance formed by the Bedouin shaikhs is helping to gain control of the brutal trade in the region.
The video report follows Mohammed Abu Bilal, from the Sheikh Sawakra Tribe, who is trying to make a stand against the abuse.
He has set up a safe house for refugees who have managed to escape the torture camps, using his own funds to ensure they are looked after and can recover.
The distressing film shows 18 refugees who had made it to the sparse, but safe building.
The men line up and show deep wounds on their back from when boiling plastic was poured on to their skin as a form of torture.
‘There are usually signs of torture and rape,’ said Mohammed Abu Bilal.
‘They arrive in a bad condition and starved these are all methods of oppression to exploit them for money. I get them doctors and try to help,’ he explained.
To discourage human trafficking, locals are being told by Mohammed Abu Bilal and his supporters not to serve the people responsible in their shops or let their daughters marry them.
He says violence is only used as a last resort to prevent the trade and a council has been set up to deal with issues.
The action taken by the Bedouin leaders has already helped stem the horrific practice of organ snatching.
Medics travel from Cairo to camps in the heart of the vast sands to harvest kidneys, livers, corneas and corneas from the helpless donors.
They then transport the organs back to Egypt in mobile refrigeration units where patients are waiting to receive them.
Thousands of refugees are believed to have died as a result of the operations, their bodies bearing tell-tale scars which show where the organs have been removed.
But now refugees are facing a new threat on top of brutal beatings, rape and murder – extortionate ransom fees.
As CNN reporter Frederik Pleitgen explained in an interview with MailOnline, the Bedouin crackdown means that fewer people are operating so only the ‘hardcore and violent’ are left.
The documentary crew discovered that previously human traffickers had demanded $20,000 to release captives from their torture camps.
But the fee has now risen to between $35,000 to $60,000, sums which are unrealistic for the captive’s relatives back in their home countries – for most of the refugees the reason they left in the first place was due to poverty.
Both genders are usually enslaved and may have to work on marijuana plantations in the depths of the desert.
But for many refugees escaping the torture camps is not the end of their terrifying ordeals.
They are aware their families have been blackmailed for release funds and are eager to make money to repay them, regardless of the physical and mental wounds they still have.
For many women who have been raped in captivity, they also have to deal with the horrific consequences.
One woman who is now safely in Tel Aviv recalled her experience at the hands of the human traffickers.
‘They are cruel people, criminal people and they don’t have the human sense like us,’ said Tegisti Tekla.
‘I was screaming I am a virgin, but they don’t care about you at all.’
Her rapist made her pregnant, but as soon as she managed to get across the Israeli border she had an abortion.
CNN reporter Frederik Pleitgen said that after last year’s documentary revealing the organ snatching trade, the crew ‘were not sure how they would react’ on their return.
But he said that the team travelled with two Bedouins, Sheikh Mohamed Abu Billal and Sheikh Ibrahim al Munai who ensured their safety.
‘We tried to go out without them once and we were stopped after 500 metres,’ he recalled.
When asked about if the Sinai was still a deadly place for refugees, despite the intentions of the local tribes, Mr Pleitgens said, ‘I think it’s just as dangerous as before.’
A Stand in the Sinai airs on CNN International, Friday 21 September at 1630 and 2130 BST
Saturday 22 September at 14:00 and 2130 BST
Sunday 23 September at 10:30 BST
Monday 24 September at 0430 BST
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