Eritreans caught between Israel and Egypt's border fences, on Wednesday.
Eritreans caught between Israel and Egypt's border fences, on Wednesday. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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Reuters
African would-be immigrants sitting near the border fence between Israel and Egypt near the Israeli village of Be'er Milcha September 6, 2012. Photo by Reuters

Israel has granted entry to two Eritrean women and a 14-year-old boy who were stuck on the Israel-Egypt border for eight days. The remaining 18 men were ordered to return to Egypt. The three Eritreans who were granted entry into Israel were immediately transferred to the Saharonim detention facility.

The Prime Minister's Office confirmed Thursday that the 21 African migrants have left the border, where they were trapped in between the fences for eight days with limited food and water, under watch by IDF troops.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the deal that was reached, saying he is determined to stop migrants from entering Israel. "It is important that everyone understand that Israel is not another destination for infiltrators," he said. "We are determined to stop the influx of infiltrations that has ensued."

“To this end we’ve built a fence, and it has already reduced the number of infiltrators by 90%. We will increase our efforts against employers of illegal infiltrators, and continue the process of returning infiltrators to their home countries," Netanyahu added.

The UN High Commission for Refugees commented on the developments, stating that the move to grant some of the migrants entry into Israel, and to turn the others way, was not coordinated with the UN, and expressed concern over the fate of the migrants. According to the commission, such a move is possible only when the side receiving the asylum seekers can guarantee to provide them with protection, not simply arrest them and return them to their home countries.

The organization “We are Refugees,” opposed the decision, stating that they had petitioned the High Court of Justice, “claiming that the asylum seekers are exposed to mortal danger in Egypt, including torture and organ theft. Stalling the court allowed the government to get rid of 18 people whose lives aren’t worth much here, in the meantime. The government does not respect the courts, and the court is in no rush to protect human life.”

Sarah Robinson, coordinator of Amnesty International’s campaign for refugee rights in Israel, said that Israel failed to uphold its obligations according to international refugee laws. She said that the Israeli government confirmed that the group of Eritreans were in fact in Israeli territory, a fact which required the Israeli government to allow them to apply for asylum, which was not d

Sarah Robinson, coordinator of Amnesty International’s campaign for refugee rights in Israel, said that Israel failed to uphold its obligations according to international refugee laws. She said that the Israeli government confirmed that the group of Eritreans was in fact in Israeli territory, a fact which required the Israeli government to allow them to apply for asylum, which was not done.

The group of migrants had been under the guard of Israel Defense Forces soldiers for the last few days. The soldiers were under orders to provide the African migrants with food and water, but not to engage them in extensive conversations, or form personal connections.

In conversations with Haaretz, some of the soldiers described their concerns. “On one hand, the fence has to do its job and prevent people from entering Israel. On the other hand, people are dying on Israeli territory," said one of the soldiers.

"The consensus is that we must not let people die,  on the other hand it’s important that someone make sure that the people who are stuck there don't contact their families and tell them that they can gain entry and work here – but, if there are refugees, they should be allowed in."

Earlier Thursday, Israel Police barred members of an Israeli physicians' NGO from providing aid to the African migrants.

The delegation, which includes seven doctors and a Tigrinya-speaking nun, indicated that its convoy was blocked by police officers, and that it was negotiating to try and reach the migrants despite the official ban.

On Thursday, the High Court of Justice convened to discuss the petition of an Israeli NGO, which called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Eli Yishai clarify why they have been denying the migrants' entry to Israel.

On Wednesday, the envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel William Tall called on Israel to grant immediate entry to a group of 21 Eritrean refugees, telling Haaretz that Israel could not "simply shut the door" and must allow them in and process their claims for asylum.

"The most worrying thing to me is the discussion of pushing them back into Egypt, which is highly irresponsible, because if they go back to Egypt there is a high risk these people will fall in the hands of human smugglers, and it is well known, it is all documented, that many of these people have been abused, there are cases of torture or rape, and if you send them back you are sending them to a situation with a very high degree of insecurity," Tall said.