By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife)– Islamic militants have abducted some 100 Eritrean Christians, including women and children, in two separate kidnappings in Libya and Sudan, well-informed activists and Christians have told BosNewslife.
The Islamic State (IS) group reportedly abducted 86 Eritrean Christians traveling to Tripoli, Libya on June 3, after allowing Muslims to go free. On June 4, unknown gunmen, suspected to be from the Sudanese Rashaida tribe, were seen opening fire on a convoy of between 49 and 70 Eritrean refugees en route from Wadi Sharifey near Kassala to Shagarab refugee camp, kidnapping 14 Christians.
IS militants allegedly targeted people because of their Christian faith. “IS militants asked everyone who is Muslim or not and everybody started saying they are Muslims. But you have to know the Koran, and [the Christians] didn’t,” said Meron Estefanos, co-founder of the International Commission on
Eritrean Refugees based in Stockholm, Sweden.
Most of the Christians held hostage are from Adi Keih, Eritrea, a city marked by opposition to the Eritrean regime, said International Christian Concern (ICC), another advocacy group investigating the case.
The IS kidnapping was at least the second large-scale abduction of Eritrean Christians in the past two months. The terror group dominated headlines April 19, when they released a video showing the shooting and beheading of 30 Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians filmed in two scenes in the Libyan desert and on a beach.
“We are confused. We really don’t know what to do,” Neamen Mesgina, an Eritrean from a Christian ministry called the Global Transformation Network, said in remarks distributed by ICC. “We are interceding for [the hostages] and God must intervene.”
The 86 IS hostages include at least 12 women and children, according to reports.
In Sudan, fourteen Christians were kidnapped by the Rashaida tribe which is “notorious for abducting Eritreans from refugee camps and demanding ransoms,” ICC said. The attack occurred less than 1.6 kilometers (one mile) outside Shagarab refugee camp where the convoy was headed, said activists with close knowledge about the situation.
Shagarab is widely known in Sudan as a common target for Rashaida, who reportedly engages in illegal human trafficking ventures with Sinai Bedouins, according to experts.
An unknown number of refugees in the convoy escaped the Rashaida shooting, but at least two people were injured during the attack and are reportedly being treated at a nearby hospital, officials said.
The “UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) is providing support to the survivors, who have been moved to Shagarab camp and is in contact with the Sudanese authorities, who are investigating the case,” the U.N. agency said in a statement.
Rashaida is demanding a $5,000 ransom for Yoursalem, one of the five women in captivity, a number that also includes seven children and two men, news reports said. “They told me that if I don’t pay they will shop her to another tribe or just kill her,” her brother Berehet, an Eritrean refugee now living in Norway, was quoted as saying.
ICC told BosNewsLife that it is currently working with its partners in Africa to try and identify the kidnapped victims.
“The increasing trend of the kidnapping of Christians and targeting them just because of their faith is intensely disturbing,” added its Regional Manager of Africa Troy Augustine. “During times like these, the Church must show that we remember our brothers and sisters when they are imprisoned for Christ just as if we are ourselves were in chains. We stand with them in prayer and call for their immediate release, whether they are currently being held hostage by [Islamic State], Rashaida, or the Eritrean state.”
Many Christians flee Eritrea, where more than 2,000 believers are believed to be detained by authorities without a fair trial, according to local churches and other sources. “Please pray for their safety and speedy release as they face unimaginable horrors for the sake of Christ,” ICC asked its supporters referring to both the thousands of detained believers and the kidnapped Christians.
Libya and Sudan, where the kidnappings took place, are also among the most dangerous places on earth for Christians, according to ICC and other investigators.
In Libya, in addition to the threat from IS, Christians reportedly face persecutions that include discrimination, sexual abuse, thievery, exploitation, and even murder.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity for his extermination of black Christians in Darfur. Also, two Christian pastors from South Sudan are currently being jailed for their faith in Sudan where they may face the death penalty, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
The recent spike in abductions in north and east Africa coincides with massive migrations of people from Sub-Saharan Africa through Libya and Sudan attempting to reach Europe in search of a better life. “Christians face the most danger in these places rife with Muslim extremism, smuggling, and in Libya’s case, terrorism and the lack of any stable government to provide security,” ICC said.
“Eritrean Christians often have to choose between living in their home country where their authoritarian government has arbitrarily imprisoned believers in Jesus because their faith, or risking their lives to trek across territory infested with extremists trying to eradicate them.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently designated Eritrea and Sudan as “Countries of Particular Concern (CPC),” meaning they are characterized by “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” abuses against religious freedom.
The agency’s 2015 Annual Report said prisoners jailed for their faith in Eritrea are often locked up in metal shipping containers, subjected to extreme temperatures, beaten, tortured, and pressured to deny Christ.
In Sudan, USCIRF reported that the government regularly imprisons Christian converts from Islam, either executing them for apostasy or forcing them to recant their faith. Christian persecution is also nothing new in Libya.
“Christian people, especially from Eritrea and Ethiopia, are discriminated against in Libya because of the religion issue,” Eritrean Catholic priest Mussie Zerai said. “It’s not the first time, it’s not new – discrimination or bad treatment, all these things. But it’s the first time they are targeted in this way,” he said, adding that they are killed by IS “because they are Christian.”