Egypt sees rise in disappearances of Coptic Christian women

Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt February 24, 2017.Reuters/Ahmed Aboulenein

The disappearance of a number of Coptic Christian women in Egypt in recent months has sparked fears that they are being targeted for human trafficking.

David Curry of Open Doors' said that the kidnappings seem to be part of a trafficking strategy to demoralize Coptic women.

World Watch Monitor reported that eight Coptic Christian women disappeared in Egypt between April and May.

"What seems to be happening is that a trafficking strategy that targets Coptic Christian young ladies and forces them to convert to Islam then sell them into either into domestic care in other international locations or into the sex trade," Curry said, according to Mission Network News.

Mirna Malak Shenouda, a 16-year-old Coptic girl who was able to escape from her captors, said that she was abducted by two women and a man in Aswan, Upper Egypt.

She recounted that her captors sprayed her with strong anaesthetics while she was on her way to church. When she awoke, she found herself on a train headed to Cairo.

The girl pretended to be unconscious while the train was moving, and made her escape when the train stopped at the nearest train station.

Shenouda's family decided not to report her disappearance because she returned home within 24 hours.

Curry said that some Coptic families face difficulties when reporting disappearances to the police.

He pointed to a case in which a family reported the disappearance of a woman to the authorities, but were told that their relative was not missing. The police claimed that the woman had turned up at the police station and declared that she willingly converted to Islam.

The authorities had reportedly refused to conduct further investigations into the case, despite objections from the woman's parents.

Curry said that many of the disappearances were reported to police stations in rural communities. "[W]e expect the Egyptian government to send [a] clear signal to these police departments that justice should be evenly distributed amongst the minorities and majority population. It should not be that if somebody is kidnapped just because they're Coptic Orthodox Christian, that their case is not considered as equal as somebody else," he said, as reported by Mission Network News.

Curry added that it would help the situation of Christians in the country if members of the Islamic community speak out for them.