CAIRO: Egyptian border guards shot and killed a man attempting to cross the Egyptian border into Israel, news agencies reported Thursday.
An unnamed official from the North Sinai police department told the Associated Press that the man died from a gunshot wound to the chest sustained after he ignored calls to stop.
The official also said that 12 African nationals were arrested on the same day while attempting to enter Israel from Egypt. The group comprised four individuals from Sudan, three from the Ivory Coast, three Nigerian nationals and a Ghanaian.
Fourteen Africans have been killed while attempting to cross the border into Israel in 2008, news reports confirm.
While the fate of these 12 migrants remain unclear, the incident comes in the midst of international condemnation of continuing deportations of Eritrean asylum-seekers by the Egyptian authorities, in defiance of its obligation under international law not to return asylum-seekers back to countries where their life or liberty is at risk, or they face the risk of torture.
On June 13 Amnesty International reported that some 700 Eritrean asylum-seekers have been deported to Eritrea from Aswan airport since June 11. The organisation says that up to 900 others are at risk of deportation.
Quoting Egyptian security sources, Reuters reported Wednesday that “a number of Eritreans were taken to Cairo airport in interior ministry vehicles and placed aboard special flights to Eritrea on Tuesday night.
This was confirmed by Mostafa Abol Hassan from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC) who told Daily News Egypt that 123 Eritreans were deported on a flight from Cairo airport yesterday.
Abol Hassan says that four special flights have returned Eritrean asylum-seekers since June 11, and that Eritreans remain in detention in locations in Upper Egypt and the Red Sea coast.
“It is difficult to be sure of exact numbers, but we know that Eritreans are being held in Marsa Alam, Hurghada and Qena,
“Forty women and three children are being held in the Shallal detention camp in Aswan, and 66 in a military camp in Halayeb, Abol Hassan said.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement released on June 17 said that it has visited 180 asylum-seekers held in the Shalal and Nasr El Nouba areas after the Egyptian authorities granted access to UNHCR staff.
UNHCR says that the Egyptian authorities suspended access of its staff to asylum seekers in detention on Feb. 27 2008.
Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed Egypt’ decision to allow the organization access to the asylum seekers but also said in a statement that was alarmed by reports that 700 Eritreans have been sent back by the Egyptian authorities.
People who could well be at risk in their home country should never be sent back before their asylum claims have been properly addressed, Arbour said.
Egypt should respect its international obligations not to send home anyone who could face torture or other serious forms of ill treatment, as may well be the case with those who have apparently been deported in recent days, she added.
However, she welcomed Egypt s decision last Sunday to allow the UN refugee agency to have access to Eritrean asylum seekers in order to determine their refugee status
Barbara Harrell-Bond, a professor with the American University in Cairo told Daily News Egypt that under the Organization for African Unity Convention – to which Egypt is a signatory – denying asylum-seekers access to procedures in order to assess their asylum claims amounts to a violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
According to HMLC, a group of Eritreans fled to Egypt from Sudan in April in order to escape the desperate conditions in the country.
Amnesty International’s 2008 report states that two-thirds of the population remain dependent on international emergency food aid, there is no recognisable justice system, prisoners of conscience are held incommunicado, members of evangelical churches are tortured, and compulsory military service for both men and women can last anywhere from 15 years to life.
When the Sudanese authorities began deporting some of them back to Eritrea they then paid 600 dollars to smugglers in order to enter Egypt.
Transported in trucks which left them in several places in the Eastern desert, they were told to take the train to Cairo but arrested at several train stations and charged with illegal entry into Egypt.
A court sentenced them to a one-month suspended prison sentence but they were not released, remaining in detention in Egyptian police stations in the Aswan area.
Speaking to Reuters, a UNHCR spokesperson said that the organisation continues to receive reports of deportations but has been unable to confirm any forced returns.
In an open letter sent today to Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, 18 Egyptian human rights organizations condemned the continuing deportations.
“The persecution of Eritreans by the Eritrean government has been widely documented by foreign governments and human rights organizations.The human rights violations in Eritrea are so severe that the UNHCR has issued guidelines to all governments which state that rejected Eritrean asylum seekers should not be returned to Eritrea, the letter reads.
“We therefore urge the Egyptian government to respect its commitment to the principle of non-refoulement and to cease forcibly returning Eritrean asylum-seekers who face a significant risk of torture and ill-treatment,
“We encourage the further involvement of the UNHCR, and a careful consideration of every asylum application filed by Eritrean individuals, the letter continues. – Additional reporting by AFPs