WATCH: Refugees smuggled to Israel face organ theft in Sinai

CNN and Egypt’s Channel 25 released this week chilling video reports lending credence to rumors of an emerging organ trade in the Sinai Peninsula

By Noa Yachot

Thanks to a spate of media interest over the last year, the numerous ordeals faced by African refugees smuggled to Israel have been well-documented. Detailed reports in the press and by rights organizations have covered the exorbitant amounts Bedouin smugglers demand for the coveted trip from the Horn of Africa to the Holy Land, along with the horrors many face once in Sinai. Smugglers may at that point suddenly demand more money – sometimes up to $20,000, ten times the initial sum – and then the real abuses follow.

The reports have detailed the beatings, the starvation, the gang rapes. I have met dozens of refugee women desperate to access abortions before their communities and families learn of the pregnancies that result. Sometimes, prolonged captivity in Sinai means advanced pregnancy upon arrival in Israel, and consequently, no possibility for abortion. In at least one case reported by +972, the inability to come to terms with the cultural stigma embodied by such a birth resulted in the murder of a new Eritrean mother and her baby, at the hands of her husband, who then committed suicide.

The more sophisticated the smuggling networks become, the more brutal they seem to be. For some time, refugees have been reporting to human rights organizations that their captors have threatened to seize their organs should they fail to raise a wildly unfeasible sum. But before this week, no definitive proof of organ theft had surfaced.

On Thursday, as part of the network’s “Freedom Project,” CNN reported on what appears to be a growing organ trade emerging from the refugee smuggling industry in Sinai.  The report shows chilling pictures of what Hamdy Al-Azazy, head of Egyptian rights NGO New Generation Foundation, says are the bodies of African refugees bearing distinct scars. The report quotes a forensic specialist who says that the photos strongly indicate organ removal – most commonly of corneas, livers and kidneys. Watch the report here (but beware of graphic content):

According to Sigal Rozen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, the report is incorrect when it states that the bodies belong to refugees who could not pay their own ransom. “Two years of intensive testimony collection has led me to the conclusion that there’s no connection – young pretty women are often held for months after they pay, only because they want to continue to rape them, and many young men whose ransom had been paid disappear without contacting their loved ones – it is entirely possible that the reason being that they are young and suitable for organ [theft],” she said.

Another report on Egypt’s Channel 25 depicts the corpses in Sinai being dug up, bearing testimony to the removal of organs. Please note that this clip is far more graphic than CNN’s; watch at your own risk.


The Egyptian government has been known to take a hands-off approach to Sinai, and the situation in the peninsula is said to be even more lawless since Hosni Mubarak was removed from power earlier this year. When asked last year about the Sinai camps, an Egyptian official said, “You are talking about illegal immigrants. Thus, when engaged in illegal activity, bad things can happen.” Israel, for its part, has done little beyond holding a Knesset meeting or two to discuss the atrocities taking place in its backyard. Victims who reach Israel can at best enjoy the medical and psychological assistance of NGOs, and at worst face prolonged detention, and ultimately, deportation. For now, even as things get increasingly bloody, the community of states has done little to join the media and human rights advocates in making any noise.