Lucy Fisher in the Sunday Times (£):
Scores of kidnapped Eritrean refugees are being doused with petrol and set alight by people-trafficking gangs because their families are unable to afford ransoms, it was claimed yesterday.
More than 10,000 refugees from Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in Africa, have been abducted and held to ransom by bedouin gangs in the Egyptian desert in the past four years, according to researchers.
They say more than 2,000 have been murdered as impoverished families were unable to pay sums of up to £25,000 demanded for their return. Others may have had hearts, lungs or kidneys removed and sold to the illegal organ trade.
A leading authority on the region said eight people, including a 22-year-old woman, had been burnt to death in the past fortnight after relatives failed to pay ransoms.
Mirjam van Reisen, a professor at Tilburg University in Holland, said “more than tens” of other victims had been tortured with burning petrol.
The slaughter had grown significantly worse in the past few weeks, said van Reisen, who has studied the Egyptian gangs.
The Eritreans, many fleeing conscription, cross the border to Sudan, where they fall prey to people-traffickers who promise them work in Israel.
While still in Sudan, many are captured by a travelling tribe called the Rashaida who hand them over to bedouins in Egypt for transport to Sinai.
There, they are often held in chains in large camps. They are fed starvation rations by their captors. One hostage interviewed by van Reisen said: “Their objective is to keep us barely alive so we will not try to escape or give them trouble, while at the same time torturing us so [our families] are forced to pay.”
Israel is a popular destination for the refugees as it does not deport illegal immigrants who could be persecuted upon their return.
The country is also seen as less hostile to sub-Saharan Africans than many other Middle Eastern states.
Israel? Apartheid Israel? Surely not.