Freeing African refugees kidnapped by human traffickers while fleeing their homelands is Dr. Alganesc Fessaha’s chief objective. She travels regularly to Sinai (Egypt) and Libya, where, at great personal risk and with the help of local power brokers, she tracks down kidnap victims, gets them released from torture chambers without paying a ransom, and hands them over to the UNHCR or other refugee organizations. In the past five years, Dr. Fessaha has managed to free 550 refugees from the hands of traffickers and 2,300 from prisons in the Sinai.
Human rights organizations estimate that between 25,000 and 30,000 refugees from the Horn of Africa have been kidnapped and taken to the Sinai peninsula since August 2009. Almost half of the victims are women and children, who are then held in so-called torture camps where they are systematically and brutally abused. In the course of their torture, refugees are forced to call family members in their home countries, but also in Germany and other countries around the world. The tor- turers’ goal is to blackmail up to 60,000 US dollars in ransom money out of their hostages’ families. Activists estimate that at least 600 million US dollars have been handed over by these means so far. The United Nations calls human trafficking in the Sinai “one of the most unreported humanitarian crises in the world”. Dr. Fessaha has been traveling the world for many years raising awareness of the plight of these people.
In a bid to render humanitarian aid to torture survivors and other refugees long term, Dr. Fessaha got together with other medics and friends to found the NGO Gandhi in 2003, which looks after refugees and orphans in 12 North African countries and establishes feeding and healthcare programs in refugee camps. The organization also assists refugees in Milan, where the NGO is based, with visits to the Italian authorities.
Dr. Fessaha was born in the Eritrean capital of Asmara in 1948. At the end of her schooling she left her homeland to study in Milan. She remained in Italy, now has Italian citizenship and lives in Milan.