By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel — Human Rights Watch (HRW) and two NGO’s, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, and Physicians for Human Rights, report that the Israeli military have turned away dozens of African asylum seekers, mostly made up of Eritreans, from its border with Egypt since June 2012.
HRW published a report last Sunday, saying “Israeli soldiers allegedly denied food and water to migrants, beat them with fists and guns, and pushed them across the Israel-Egypt border with long metal poles.”
HRW claims that Israel’s actions puts asylum seekers at risk of enduring prolonged detention in Egyptian prisons and police stations, where they are unable to claim asylum. Also, Eritrean migrants risk a forcible return to Eritrea, and also face abuse, torture, and rape by traffickers in the Sinai region.
The number of rejected asylum seekers has increased at the Egypt-Israeli border since Israel began construction on a 250 km fence that runs the length of the border. “Building a border fence does not give Israel a right to push back asylum seekers,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate at HRW. Simpson believes that Israel is failing to follow international law, and should only reject asylum seekers when their claim for asylum is not valid.
In a letter written to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Justice Ministry, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that Israel must resume the arrests of African migrants. Yishai, who in his letter only mentions the Sudanese and not the Eritreans who comprise the majority of migrants that cross from Egypt, said “as you know, the problem of infiltration to Israel is one of the most difficult and complicated problems which Israel has dealt with since the founding of the state, [it is] a problem which threatens our identity, character, and future.”
A source close to Yishai said that his letter is directly related to the elections that will occur in January. The Shas, the political party which Yishai is associated with, fear losing potential voters that commonly vote for the Likud and are frustrated with Netanyahu’s handling of the illegal immigration issue.
Last May, rising tensions over illegal immigration erupted when protesters marching through the streets of south Tel Aviv started smashing African-run shops and property, chanting “Blacks out.”
Currently, more than 60,000 Africans are estimated to be living in Israel illegally, mostly in the run-down neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv.
For further information, please see:
Al Jazeera — African Migrants ‘Denied Entry’ to Israel — 29 October 2012
Gulf News — Israel Turns Back Dozens of African Migrants — 29 October 2012
Human Rights Watch — Israel: Asylum Seekers Blocked at Border — 28 October 2012
The Jerusalem Post — NGO’s Reject Israeli Asylum Policy to Migrants — 28 October 2012