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UNHCR urging Egypt to intervene to secure release of Eritreans held hostage

Briefing notes

UNHCR urging Egypt to intervene to secure release of Eritreans held hostage

7 December 2010

UNHCR is concerned about a group of some 250 Eritreans who have been held hostage for about a month by traffickers in the Sinai, Egypt.

UNHCR has very limited information about this group. We have noted media reports that the traffickers are demanding payments of US$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. Egypt's Ministry of Interior has assured us that around the clock efforts are underway to locate the hostages and release them.

Every year thousands of people attempt to cross the border from Egypt into Israel, and often in the hands of 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.

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.