Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 15, 2008

Published: November 14, 2008

by Joseph Mayton (Middle East Times)

CAIRO – African migrants trying to sneak into Israel from Egypt along the lengthy Sinai border, often THE LUCKY ONES - Sudanese refugees walk to a garden in Jerusalem after illegally crossing the border from Egypt into Israel to seek shelter and safety. (UPI)with little more than the clothes on their backs, are being gunned down by Egyptian police carrying out a new “shoot-to-kill” deterrence policy, a human rights group says in a damning report that also claims Israel may be involved.

The Egyptian government has defended its use of force in the Sinai Peninsula as a critical part of a counter-terror strategy against smuggling.

But Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its 90-page report titled, “Sinai Perils: Risks to Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Egypt and Israel,” that the migrants who were killed on the 266-kilometer (130-mile) border posed no threat to the border guards who opened fire.

“The Egyptian government should send a clear message to stop shooting the defenseless, harmless and [non-threatening] people on the border,” HRW researcher Bill Van Esveld told journalists at Cairo’s Press Syndicate during the release of the report.

“[But] unfortunately, it does not seem that Egyptian officials here recognize the seriousness of the problem,” he said.

Israel has long told Cairo to do more to inhibit the movement of people across their border. But the rights organization was also critical of the Jewish state, saying that it should not immediately return to Egypt potential asylum-seekers where they could face deportation to nations with well-documented human rights violations.

“Despite the violations of refugee rights on the Egyptian side, Israel had returned many people back into the custody of the Egyptian border police,” Van Esveld said.

Some activists in Israel have started questioning their government’s policy of return, suggesting that as Jews themselves they should consider giving those who are seeking a reprieve from genocide the opportunity to remain.

“Both Egypt and Israel have responded to this cross-border flow with policies that violate fundamental rights,” said the report.

Many Africans in Cairo boast of friends who have succeeded in running the border gauntlet into Israel.

“I have a number of friends who told me of the joy they are having in Israel, where they work and have a life again,” said Somali refugee Ali, who did not want his surname to be published.

But that hope has been dashed for dozens of Africans who have been wounded and sometimes killed by bullets at the border.

One of the reasons Africans seek to go to Israel is to escape the poor conditions they are experiencing in Egypt. Ranging from unemployment, racism and lack of funds, the Africans are distraught and unable to find a niche where they are.

“Many Sudanese said that attitudes among ordinary Egyptians were racist and frequently spilled over into violence,” the report said.

“My choice was to stay in Cairo, go through Libya [to Europe] and maybe die at sea, or go to Israel and die by a bullet. I preferred to die by a bullet,” it quoted an asylum-seeker from Sudan’s Darfur region as saying.

Some 13,000 Africans have made it into the Jewish state since 2006, while 33 people have been killed since June 2007 and scores of others injured along the border, highlighting the ongoing struggle that rights groups have with Cairo and Israel.

Although the report does not go as far as to claim Israel demanded that Egypt begin the “shoot-to-kill” policy that is applied throughout the border area over the past year, HRW does allude to a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2007.

At the meeting, the two leaders discussed new measures designed to deter refugees from seeking to enter Israel via Egypt.

“We are not saying that Israel ordered Egypt to kill people; there is no evidence of that,” explained Van Esveld, “but what we are saying is that it seems that Egypt has responded to Israeli pressures with this policy of lethal force.”

No matter what, the reality on the ground is that Africans continue to be gunned down by Egyptian border police, despite not posing a threat to the well-armed guards. The rights organization has called on both Israel and Egypt to investigate the deaths of Africans and they demand a change in policy that does not infringe upon the rights of migrants.



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