IDF soldiers standing guard over African migrants on the Egypt-Israel border.
IDF soldiers standing guard over African migrants on the Egypt-Israel border. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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In response to a report of some 20 Eritrean migrants trapped between the Israel-Egypt border, Interior Minsiter Eli Yishai declared, “We will not bring the Eritreans into Israeli territory.”

“It is hardest for me, of anyone, to see these pictures, and return families to their homelands. It is hard for me to see these pictures, but I am the one who has to make the difficult decision, and if I have to choose between the good of the state, its civilians, and its security, [and the good of the families] I will choose that there be a fence, that they won’t enter, and instead return to their country,” continued Yishai.

In an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday morning, Yishai said “every day there are people stuck there. If there were no fence, and if we weren’t steadfast, there would be a million people here. Don’t ask what we would do with a million refugees here – excuse me, migrant workers.”

The group of 20 Eritrean migrants has been trapped for roughly six days between fences on the Israel-Egyptian border.

Last Thursday, the migrants reached the border area, north of Kadesh-Barnea, hoping to enter Israel. When they tried to cross into Israel, however, they were caught by obstacles that line the border area, within Israeli territory.Currently, soldiers from the Israel Defense Force’s Givati Brigade, stationed in the area, are keeping watch over the migrants, ensuring that they do not enter Israeli territory.

On Tuesday night, social activists travelled to the area where the migrants are currently stuck, in order to bring them food. IDF forces prohibited the activists from meeting the Eritrean migrants and personally delivering the food, as a recent order designated the area as a closed military zone. According to the activists, the order was handed down on Tuesday, and is in effect for three weeks.

One of the activists stated that the sector battalion commander confirmed that the IDF is not delivering food to the migrants, but would pass on the food that the activists had brought.

“As far as I can tell they were expecting us, from the commanders on down to the last soldier. It was clear that they were expecting an action of this kind. We decided not to risk arriving to the specific point in a car, so three of us approached on foot,” said Shai Guraski, an activist that traveled to the border on Tuesday night, to bring food to the migrants.

“They were determined not to let us pass, and threatened to arrest us – and they meant it. In negotiations with the soldiers, the battalion commander proposed we leave the food behind, and that they would deliver it to the migrants. We demanded that one of us be allowed to accompany the soldiers, to see that the food got to them – but he said it was impossible, and repeated the mantra ‘you’re not allowed to be here,’“ continued Guraski.

“I felt that many of the solders there were uncomfortable with the situation,” said Guraski.

Another group of activists from central Israel is expected to travel to the border on Wednesday, to bring the migrants food and water.

A similar episode occurred three weeks ago: A group of migrants from Africa tried to enter Israel, and was stranded for roughly four days in a water tunnel near the border. The migrants were allowed to enter Israel for humanitarian reasons, and were brought to a site operated by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

An IDF spokesman said, "A fence was recently installed in this area with the aim of preventing unauthorized entry into the territory of the State of Israel. In recent days a group of foreigners has been stopped on the western side of the fence, an area which looks out toward Egyptian territory; the group's progress was stopped by this fence. For humanitarian reasons, IDF forces supply water through the fence to these foreigners."