Eritreans in Sweden targeted for extortion

Eritreans in Sweden targeted for extortion
Two men and one woman have been arrested in Stockholm on suspicion of blackmail and conspiring to commit murder in a case believed to be connected to the Eritrean regime's systematic oppression of Eritreans living in exile.

The three suspects allegedly presented extortion demands from kidnappers in Egypt and told their victims that their relatives would be killed unless they paid huge sums for their release.

The threats persisted for weeks until the three were arrested earlier this week.

According to Krister Peterson, chief prosecutor at the International Public Prosecution Office, several similar crimes have been reported in Sweden in the past.

Eritreans in Sweden have claimed that hundreds of families in Sweden have been targeted by kidnappers operating in the Sinai desert in Egypt, reported news agency TT.

Many similar cases have also been reported in other countries, including Norway.

“There is a suspicion that Eritrean refugees have been kidnapped while fleeing the country and that people in Sweden have then been forced to pay for their release,” said Peterson.

TT reported that at least seven Swedish Eritrean families were targeted last year by a high-ranking Eritrean military officer.

He reportedly kidnapped relatives of the families in Eritrea, brought them to the Sudanese border and then demanded that the families pay $7,000 within 24 hours or the relatives would be handed over to kidnappers in Egypt.

One woman told TT that her 16-year-old brother was abducted in Sudan a few months ago and brought to another group of kidnappers in Sinai.

“They called once every half hour while they were beating him and demanded $38,000…We had to pay to save his life”, the woman said.

One month later, the kidnappers released the 16-year-old near the Israeli border. He is now being held in Israel and it is unclear what will happen to him next, according to the woman.

A 2012 United Nations report described how generals from the Eritrean army liaise with kidnappers in Sinai, earning millions from kidnappings, human trafficking, and arms trading.

“The criminal network smuggles Eritrean migrants and Eritrean weapons, often in the same vehicle,” the UN report says.

“Once they arrive in Sudan or Sinai the Eritrean migrants are taken hostage and are tortured, raped or killed, while their kidnappers demand on average between $30,000 and $40,000 in ransom, which is often negotiated with the help of Eritrean middlemen.”

Investigators from the UN arrived in Sweden this week to gather testimonies from Swedish Eritreans. They are also interested in how Eritrea continues to collect taxes from Eritreans living in exile, often through intimidation and blackmail.

The UN has enforced sanctions against Eritrea because of the country’s support for armed groups in the Horn of Africa, including the terrorist-labelled al-Shabaab in Somalia.

TT/The Local/nr Follow The Local on Twitter

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