Text size
related tags

Israel is contending with a wave of migrants from Africa, particularly Sudan and Eritrea, entering its territory through Egypt. There are currently around 17,500 African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel who want recognition under the international treaty prohibiting their return to their countries of origin, where they might face persecution, torture or death by execution. Most of the migrants entered Israel's Negev via the border with Sinai in the past three years.

Even if the Israel Defense Forces' estimate of "1 million labor migrants" seeking to cross the border into Israel illegally are inflated, it is clear that the migrants are not a passing phenomenon and must be addressed with a suitable and comprehensive government policy. The existing policy defines them as "infiltrators" who must be blocked from entering or sent back to Egypt immediately if they manage to cross the border. In line with Israel's practice of immediate "hot return," authorities have handed over to Egypt 117 asylum seekers in the first nine months of the year, all of them apprehended near the border area within 24 hours after crossing.

The procedure for accelerated deportation is being deliberated by Israel's High Court of Justice after several human-rights organizations filed a petition on the matter. The organizations anchor their petition on an opinion issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to the effect that "hot return" violates international law when practiced without guarantees ensuring the well-being of displaced people returned to Egypt. The UN also demands that Israel adhere to the "principle of non-return" ("non-refoulement") of the UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Israel has been the target of international condemnation for its human-rights violations amid the ongoing occupation in the Palestinian territories and the disproportionate use of military power in civilian areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has placed the fight against the Goldstone report (which accused Israel of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in Operation Cast Lead) at the top of his diplomatic agenda. In such circumstances, it behooves Israel not to draw further condemnation, this time over African refugees who have fled countries torn by famine and war.

Israel, like any country, has every right to restrict the entrance of migrants and infiltrators into its territory. But it is important that these parameters conform to international law and treaties to which Israel is a signatory. The matter of refugees from Sudan and Eritrea must be addressed without opening a new front against the UN.