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Israel-Egypt border Photo courtesy of the Defense Ministry
Israel-Egypt border Photo courtesy of the Defense Ministry
 
 

Migrants 'sitting on the fence' - literally

Group of African migrants huddles by Israel-Egypt border, hoping to be allowed through. IDF soldiers provide them with water; human rights groups urge government to grant them entrance

Yoav Zitun
Published: 09.04.12, 18:16 / Israel News

For nearly five days, a group of 20 African migrants, including women, has been sitting by the west side of the new Israel- Egypt border fence, waiting for IDF forces patrolling the area to allow them into Israel, Ynet learned Tuesday.

 

The troops make sure that they have enough drinking water.

 

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Some two weeks ago, Israel allowed a group of African migrants into the country on humanitarian grounds, after they camped out at a border-adjacent reservoir.

 

Once in Israel, they received medical attention and were then transferred to a holding facility.

 

Ran Cohen, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights beseeched the authorities to allow then into Israel, where they could apply for political asylum.

 

"Israel pledged to the court that it will not send illegal migrants and asylum seekers back immediately," he said.

 

"The international law also states that a country cannot send a migrant back to his homeland if his life or his freedom are in jeopardy.

 

"This is obviously a group of asylum seekers," he added. "We urge Israel to exercise both reason and compassion, as well as to adhere to its moral and legal obligations, and allow this group in."

 

Breach of international law?

Attorney Oded Feller, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, added that "Israel has every right to build a border fence, but this fence does not exempt it from its duties.

 

"If people are begging for their lives at the foot of that fence, we must make sure that their lives are not in danger, and if one awaits them – we must let them in. They cannot be allowed to starve. This is a disgrace."

 

According to Feller, the Israeli immigration laws have no direct contingencies for illegal infiltration, "But when we know someone faces mortal danger we have to abide by international law and refrain from sending them back."

 

The Foreign Workers' Hotline said that "According to international law, preventing the entrance of asylum seekers who are on Egyptian soil to Israel is a breech of international law.

 

"The courts have already ruled that an individual cannot be sent back to where his freedom or life are in danger, and it is known the Egypt send them back to their homelands."

 

Prof. Robbie Sabel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who once served as a legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry, told Ynet that while the international law does not mandate that a country allows migrants in, the matter is up for interpretation.

 

"Some legalists, mostly those working with human rights groups, say that if an asylum seeker is at the fence, you must let him in, in order to abide by humanitarian principles."

 

But Sabel stressed that the Israeli law makes no such provisions. "Personally, I don't think there's a legal obligation if someone is at the gate, but if asylum seekers are already on Israeli soil we have to allow them in and investigate their claims."

 

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said: "The area in question has a consecutive fence meant to block any unauthorized elements from entering the State Prosecutor's Office.

 

"A group of foreigners has been staying by the west side of the fence, the closest to Egypt, for several days. Their infiltration into Israel has been stopped thanks to the fence. For humanitarian reasons, the IDF ensures they have sufficient water, the supply of which is made through the fence."

 

Omri Efraim contributed to this report

 

 

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