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How I Survived the terror of the organ-harvesting trade

An Eritrean refugee living in Melbourne has spoken to SBS in graphic detail about being kidnapped and held captive in Egypt by Bedouin tribesmen who demanded either a ransom or one of his kidneys.

Samson Habtemariam was 26 years old when he fled Eritrea, hiding in a truck. He had been imprisoned for more than a year, then held under house arrest, accused of cooperating with opposition forces.

But after crossing the border, he was caught by Sudanese security forces who sold him as a prisoner to a tribe of Bedouin called the Rashaida.
Samson Habtemariam eventually found himself in the Sinai Desert in neighbouring Egypt, along with other victims of a human-trafficking and organ-harvesting operation.

Speaking in the Tigrinya language, Habtemariam told SBS how tribal leaders ordered them all to pay a ransom of more than $30,000 or they would lose their kidneys.

"They told us that they would sell one kidney for $25,000 and two of our kidneys for $50,000," he told SBS Radio's Tigrinya program.

"Then all of us decided to die, as there was not any way to save our lives. Some three or four people were dying every day."

"We were blindfolded, we couldn't see each other, and, therefore, we could not discuss anything. You could not know who is dying or alive. Because there was a guard for 24 hours, we could not discuss anything."

He said he and the others were held in a house where their kidneys were removed.

"The house was full of human bodies. If you pick anything from the ground, you find human hairs, bones."

"These bodies were the people who died after their kidneys have been taken. After the operation, they dump the body in that house. There were bodies that were thrown outside as well."

Samson Habtemariam says he was imprisoned for six months, with his family unable to raise the ransom.

Then one night, he and others in the camp staged a mass breakout.

"Thirty-five of us were tied (together). If one of your hands is free, the other one is tied with another leg."

"You cannot run, but we ran by rolling on the ground. Then, they started to shoot at us. From the 35 people, most of them were killed. Two of them entered Israel on the same night. Nine of us were hiding in bushes. In total, 11 people escaped."

He says he initially found refuge in a mosque, before travelling to Cairo and then being resettled in Australia by the United Nations relief agency, the UNHCR.

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