CAIRO: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Egypt to halt its “shoot-to-kill policy with African migrants and refugees that attempt to cross into Israel along the porous Sinai border.
This year alone, Egyptian border guards have shot and killed at least 33 migrants, including a pregnant woman, trying to cross into Israel illegally, HRW said in a report released Wednesday in Cairo.
The report also criticizes Israel for forcibly returning the migrants who manage to cross the border back to Egypt without giving them a chance to present asylum claims. Israel has returned 139 migrants to Egypt where they are subject to detention and “ill-treatment, says the report.
“African migrants face many problems in Egypt, an economic problem as they have little money and no access to jobs, as well as [a security problem] because they do not feel safe and protected and they can’t go to the authorities, Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, told Daily News Egypt.
For its report, HRW interviewed 69 migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Egypt and Israel. “What they all shared in common was generalized fear, Bill Van Esveld, lawyer for the New York-based rights group and author of the report, said in an interview with Daily News Egypt.
“Everyone I spoke to was very anxious [about] not giving their real name.
They were afraid of being identified by talking to me and that would bring attention to them, whether from the Sudanese government, which evidently has agents in Cairo, or from the Egyptian government who doesn’t want people talking about this phenomenon, Van Esveld said.
HRW is calling for the government to amend its ways in the treatment of Africans along the 266-km border.
“Egypt should stop deporting back people to countries like Sudan and Eritrea where they face a serious risk of persecution, Stork said.
Meanwhile, General Mohamed Abdel Fadeel, governor of Northern Sinai, told Al-Youm Al-Saba’a weekly paper that “the Egyptian border guards are not going to stand still and watch those who try to cross the borders illegally. He said Israel is mainly responsible and accused it of encouraging migrants to cross over to “use them for information and cheap labor.
“A policeman or a guard could not be brutal, they are just doing their job, he added.
In July 2007, Israel announced an agreement with Egypt to tighten security on the Egyptian side and since that time, according to AFP, the number of shootings and detentions has increased.
“Egypt must make it clear that lethal force is not the answer and is not a means of saving lives for those crossing the border illegally, Stork continued.
While human rights groups have long focused on Egypt’s border policy, the Egyptian government has done little in accepting calls for change. One of those changes has been the continued claims by refugees living in the country – there are currently around 4 million African migrants and 43,000 official refugees here – that the economic situation is painful at best.
Ali, a Somali refugee who knows friends who have escaped to Israel, believes there are better opportunities to start anew in the Jewish state.
“Things here have been so poor for so long that people are fed up with the poor treatment we receive, so it doesn’t surprise me that people are looking for a new country, he told Daily News Egypt.