Saturday, 22 September 2012

Women Raped By Human Traffickers Find Help

The Sinai desert is a hub for people trafficking. Many of the refugees from sub-Saharan Africa who get smuggled through here get tortured and blackmailed in the process.

Bedouin gangs – instead of trafficking the refugees straight into Israel - often hold them captive, torture them and force relatives into paying ransoms for their release. The ordeal is exceptionally bad for women. Many of them are raped by the traffickers and some become pregnant.

I met Tegisti Tekla from Eritrea in a shelter of the African Refugee Development Center in Tel Aviv. She eventually made it to Israel after a long and treacherous journey via Sudan and the Sinai.

Tegisti was raped by people traffickers several times during the trip. She told me she wanted to talk about her suffering to help prevent others from going through the same.

"They are cruel people," she said as tears ran down her cheeks. "They are criminal people and they don't have the human sense like us. I screamed that I am virgin but they just don't care at all about you."

Tegisti says the first time she was raped the people traffickers selected her and another female refugee from a larger group and took them away saying they would have to make coffee for the smugglers. There would be several similar incidents during her treacherous trek across the Sinai.

When Tegisti finally made it to Israel she found out she was pregnant and decided to have an abortion. "I would suffer all my life," she said. "I would have a son or a daughter without a father. That's why I decided not to have the baby."

Last year CNN visited the region as part of the Freedom Project spotlighting the depths that the traffickers have sunk. This year we found Bedouins tackling the trafficking on their doorstep.

The African Refugee Development Center, an aid group that provides food and shelter, says many women who make it to Israel are pregnant from rape and many ask for an abortion. Only a very few have the babies who were fathered by people traffickers.

Diddy Mymin Kahn, an aid worker at ARDC, says the aftermath is like being violated again for victims who are often stigmatized by their communities instead of receiving the help they require.

"Women say they will not get any support from their community if they are victims of rape so they will keep completely silent about it so that they are not ostracized. Even more so if they are pregnant," Mymin Kahn told CNN.

Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean-born Swedish activist and journalist who works out of Stockholm, is often in contact with women who were held by people traffickers in torture camps. She says she frequently hears stories of rape and other sexual abuse.

"In some cases babies are even born in the torture camps," Meron told me. "Then the people smugglers sometimes tell the women that they have to pay double the ransom because there are two people now."

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