The United Nations refugee agency today voiced its concern about a group of some 250 Eritreans who have been held hostage for about a month by traffickers in the Sinai, and called on the Egyptian Government to intervene to help secure their release.
While the agency has very limited information about the group, media reports say that the traffickers are demanding payments of $8,000 per person for their release, that people are being held in containers and are subject to abuses, and that some may have been held for months.
"We are, at this time, in contact with the Egyptian Government over this matter," Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference in Geneva.
"Egypt's Ministry of Interior has assured us that around the clock efforts are underway to locate the hostages and release them," he added.
According to UNHCR, thousands of people attempt to cross the border from Egypt into Israel every year. Often they turn to bedouin traffickers, who have little regard for their safety. While many are migrants, some originate from refugee-producing countries, including Eritrea.
"UNHCR's eligibility guidelines consider that most Eritreans fleeing their country should be considered as refugees," said Mr. Edwards.
"UNHCR has been advocating with the Egyptian authorities for access to people who are detained in the course of making this journey, with a view to being able to determine those among them who are refugees and in need of international protection," he said.