An uproar over Israel's
refusal to allow entry to some 20 Eritreans
trapped just beyond the country's southern border fence has prompted a United Nations envoy to plead the asylum seekers' case.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' representative in Israel, William Tall, expressed concern for the fate of the migrants, and urged the Jewish state to allow them in.
Tall noted that Israel's commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention obligates the country to allow these migrants in and review their eligibility for refugee status.
The envoy branded any attempt to force asylum seekers to return to Egypt,
where they face the risk of being captured by traffickers,
as "irresponsible," stressing that African migrants have been subjected to torture
and abuse in the past.
Eritreans trapped between borders (Photo: AP)
Tall said that he was troubled by the recent developments in Israel's conduct towards migrants – including politicians' remarks
on the issue, plans to detain Sudanese
and Eritrean asylum seekers and "anti-infiltration" legislation that facilitates the incarceration of migrants without trial for a period up to three years.
He was particularly disturbed by these developments in light of the fact that during his three and a half years in Israel he has noticed the state making efforts to receive migrants in a morally acceptable manner, Tall said.
The group of migrants has been trapped between the Israeli and Egyptian border fences for the past six days, exposed to the elements. Activists who wished to bring them food and water on Wednesday were blocked by IDF
troops, who identified the area as a closed military zone. Some of the soldiers said that they are supplying the migrants with food and water.
Physicians for Human Rights announced that it will send another group of activists to the border on Thursday to demand the migrants to be allowed in.
We Are Refugees, a human rights group, has petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday and demanded that Defense Minister Ehud Barak
and Interior Minister Eli Yishai be ordered to allow the Eritreans to enter Israel and provide them with food and water as well as medical care. They are also demanding that the government check the Eritreans' eligibility for political asylum.
The petitioners requested an urgent hearing on the matter "due to the life threatening situation." Justice Esther Hayut granted the motion and a hearing will be held on Thursday.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry released a legal opinion stipulating that Israel does not have "any legal duty to allow entrance to refugees located beyond the border."
"As per the international practices and the relevant precedents, the fence marks the actual border. Anyone who is located beyond the border is not located within Israel's territory, and is ineligible for entry," the legal opinion read.
"There has been no ruling made by an international agency to determine that the Sudanese or the Eritreans are prosecuted in Egypt or are found in mortal danger there."
Seven protesters – including Holocaust
survivors – rallied in front of Jerusalem's Yad Vashem museum on Wednesday, calling on the government to allow the asylum seekers into the country.
Holocaust survivors rally in solidarity (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Among the protesters was Professor Veronica Cohen, who spent part of World War II at the Budapest Ghetto.
"When I heard about what happened (to the migrants) I was reminded of my friends, Holocaust survivors, who stood before sealed borders that would not open when they needed help," she said. "As a religious man, Interior Minister Eli Yishai must remember that there is a God in the heavens who sees what we do here."
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash)
has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
to immediately intervene on behalf of the would-be refugees.
"What do we want? For them to die on the border? Some of them were tortured in Sinai. One pregnant woman miscarried. What does it say about us? Where are our human morals? What about the Jewish history? Does any decision maker remember any of these?'" He pondered.
"A fence does not nullify the duty to review the requests of asylum seekers," he added. "A walled fortress is not the solution to the regional problem. In this case regional and international cooperation is essential."
Aviel Magnezi contributed to the report