Survivors of of Torture and Human Trafficking

In 2009, reports started pouring in about asylum seekers being kidnapped by smugglers in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The captivity included brutal sexual and physical violence, and in many cases forced labor. According to survivors’ testimonies, especially common were systematic rape and sexual humiliation, skin burns, electric shocks, hanging, chain shackles, and deprivation of food, drink and sleep. In order to be rescued, the captured asylum seekers were forced to call their families and beg them to find a way to pay ransom to the kidnappers. Anyone who managed to raise the ransom money, which could be tens of thousands of dollars, was released and came to the nearest border – the border with Israel.

About 4,000 asylum seekers and survivors of the Sinai torture camps live in Israel. They live with injuries to body and mind – severe post-trauma, injuries and physical limitations that make it difficult for them to make a living, build a family and community connections and lead a normal life. Without stability or a social safety net, and in the absence of access to adequate health and welfare services, torture camp survivors continue to be exposed to harm and exploitation, to extreme distress and to further deterioration in their condition.

Approximately 500 survivors have been recognized by Israel as victims of trafficking under the Prohibition of Trafficking in Human Beings (Legislative Amendments) Law, 5767-2006, and are entitled to a year of rehabilitation treatment. Despite changes in procedure in recent years, the recognition process remains complex and inaccessible, and most asylum seekers who are recognized victims of trafficking are left with unsatisfactory assistance after the year of rehabilitation.

The rest of torture and human trafficking survivors are left without an adequate response or rehabilitation for the trauma and injuries they have sustained, despite their right to rehabilitation services that will allow them to return to a normal and functional life and deal with the medical, psychological and social consequences of past torture and abuse. This is a right enshrined in Article 14 of the UN Convention against Torture – ratified by Israel.

What we do at ASSAF

We at ASSAF work with the UN Committee against Torture, the US State Department, the Knesset, government ministries and partner organizations to ensure that asylum seekers have access to rehabilitation services and can live with dignity in Israel. In addition, we are members of the international organization IRCT – International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

We are the only organization in Israel that provides direct and dedicated assistance to asylum seekers who have survived torture camps. This assistance includes individual accompaniment of a social worker and community mediator: personal support and care conversations, advocacy and exercise of rights, work with the applicant’s family members, friends and community, and therapeutic support groups – weekly groups led by a social worker and a community mediator to empower, strengthen mental resilience and provide tools for dealing with their complex situation. In some cases, we apply for recognition as victims of trafficking and slavery.

We work to raise awareness among the asylum seeker community to the consequences of trauma: knowing post-traumatic symptoms, coping strategies, and tools for self-help. In addition, we recently launched a training course for those with experience – a first-of-its-kind course for training survivors of torture and human trafficking who have undergone a rehabilitation process themselves, and are interested in learning to use their personal experience to help others in crisis and need support; Reduce stigma about mental health in the community; And turn the crises that have passed into points of strength and a source of empowerment.

"We were eight people tied together. Each day they gave one loaf to everyone and half a bottle of water. Their boss came, he brought a plastic pipe and set it on fire. He started dripping the molten plastic on our backs. We all had infections and pus and worms in wounds. So stinky you can not believe these are human beings."

A. Torture camp survivor

"I was one woman with 16 men. In Sinai the smugglers demanded $35,000 to release me. It took my family five months to raise the money. Meanwhile, they raped and strangled me. When I arrived in Israel, I was imprisoned in Saharonim for a year and a half."

O. Torture camp survivor

"At night the kidnappers raped my sister, burned her in the back and electrocuted her. When they realized our family had managed to send enough money to free only one of us, they beat us. My sister was already fatally wounded from her past torture. She could not stand, but the kidnappers repeatedly shouted for her to stand, while they were kicking her in the head until she died."

K. Torture camp survivor

Further Reading

Reports and Papers

“We are Also Human Beings” - Survivors of Torture Camps in Sinai, a report May 2014

Publications

Testimony of Filmon, torture camp survivor

Testimony of Kefle, torture camp survivor