Refugees from the dictatorial regime in Eritrea who have ended up in camps in the Sinai desert in Egypt are being used to blackmail Eritrean families who have found safety in Sweden.
Lola Habtom’s 20-year-old brother was kidnapped in one of the camps. His captors then contacted her and demanded $35,000 in ransom.
“I asked them where I was going to get that kind of money,” Habtom told the TT news agency about having to listen to her kid brother cry in pain over the phone as the captors abused him.
“They said they were going to cut out my brother’s heart and kidneys.”
She managed to transfer the money, freeing her brother who was dumped in the desert to make his own way to the Israeli border. A fellow captive who was released at the same time did not make it out of the desert alive.
TT has now identified at least 20 families in Sweden who have had to go through similar ordeals. The Swedish-Eritrean human rights activist Meron Estefanos says the number is closer to 300 in Sweden alone.
Habtom, along with fellow blackmailing victims Medhanie Neraio and Tesfay Berhe, decided to speak out to raise awareness.
“The kidnappings keep happening. Any day someone might call you from the Sinai and say ‘Your brother, daughter or nephew has been abducted,'” said Neraio. His family recently paid $38,000 dollars to free a young relative.
“Everyone knows someone who’s been affected. People talk about this everyday,” said Tesfay Berhe whose brother’s grandson was abducted.