Ransom Kidnapping and Human Trafficking: The Case of the Sinai Torture Camps

May 15, 2018
Berkeley Journal of International Law

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers have entered Israel through the Sinai Peninsula. While en route to Israel, thousands of them were kidnapped and traded as commodities within organized-crime networks. These networks shared one main purpose: holding victims hostage in “camps” and torturing them until a friend or family member paid a ransom for their release. This practice of kidnapping refugees and asylum seekers (“Ransom Kidnapping”) has also taken hold in other parts of the world and is becoming increasingly common. Looking at the experiences of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Sinai torture camps as a case study, this Article explores the nexus between Ransom Kidnapping and the legal framework surrounding human trafficking. Despite deep similarities, most legal systems and international actors do not consider Ransom Kidnapping to be a form of human trafficking. Instead, they consider Ransom Kidnapping a species of human smuggling. This classification adversely affects the rights and entitlements of survivors. For instance, in Israel, only a small fraction of those who survived the Sinai torture camps have been recognized as victims of human trafficking. Those recognized as victims of human trafficking were granted a visa and exemption from detention, free legal aid, and a room at a designated shelter. Meanwhile, those not recognized as victims of human trafficking experienced detention and were denied suitable treatment. Almost 20 years after the signing of the United Nations’ Trafficking Protocol and the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), and in light of the rise of Ransom Kidnapping and other forms of exploitation, the legal framework surrounding human trafficking must be revisited. This Article suggests a critical outlook on these mechanisms and examines how they respond to current realities on the ground.

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