Police Bar Israeli Doctors' NGO From Accessing Eritrean Refugees Trapped Near Border

Responding to High Court petition Thursday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he rejects the claim Israel is responsible for foreign citizens who are located outside its borders.

Israel Police barred on Thursday members of an Israeli physicians' NGO from providing aid to African migrants who have been trapped between the fences on the Israeli-Egyptian border.

For the past week, 21 Eritrean migrants, among them a 14-year-old boy, are trapped between the fences on the Israeli-Egyptian border and are guarded by IDF troops.

Earlier in the day a delegation from the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights arrived near the border, in an attempt to administer medical aid to the trapped Eritreans.

However, policemen barred the physicians from accessing the migrants, citing the recent declaration of the border area as a closed military zone.

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.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein supports the policy outlined by the Interior Ministry, which states that the group should not be granted entry to Israel. Responding to the High Court petition, Weinstein rejected the premise stating that Israel must open its gates to Eritrean citizens because it grants asylum to those who have already entered the country.

The Attorney General claims he is working under the assumption that Israel, as a sovereign state, has the right to decide who enters the country. Weinstein also said that Israel's right to build a fence on its border with Egypt cannot be questioned, and that Israel has a right to deny categorical entry of foreign citizens into the country.

However, Weinstein noted that the IDF has been providing the group with food and water, stating that every urgent medical and humanitarian matter will be addressed.

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.

Continuing, Tall said that Israel and the Israel Defense Forces have said that they have stopped the policy of "hot returns," and that not allowing the refugees between the fences is "basically the same thing."

African migrants - Reuters - 6.9.2012
African migrants looking through the fence at the Egyptian-Israeli border on August 4, 2012.