World Bulletin/News Desk
Israel has been sending soldiers into Egypt's Sinai desert to stop African migrants before they reach the border, handing them over to Egyptian forces, human rights groups charged in a report released Friday, Jarusalem Post reported.
Israeli NGOs including Amnesty International Israel, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Assaf, Physicians for Human Rights, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel say they have received reports from an Israeli reserve soldier as well as asylum seekers in Israel that say that IDF soldiers "are entering Egypt, detaining individuals as they make their way to seek asylum in Israel, and then handing them over to the Egyptian security forces.”
The groups called on Israel to stop the practice.
The statement included an affidavit presented by Attorney Anat Ben-Dor, in which the IDF reservist said that in June 2012 he was taken to a briefing given by reservist soldiers who served at the border site before him, who told him of a new procedure to stop “infiltrators” by stationing soldiers hundreds of meters inside Egypt in order to stop them before they arrive at the border.
The reservist said that his predecessors told them that in order to prevent “infiltrators” from escaping, they would “give them the illusion that they have arrived to the territory of Israel by not using aggressive behavior, displays of tension, or threats with our weapons. They suggested that we receive those that come with the blessing "Welcome to Israel," to act friendly, to ask the purpose for their arrival, to offer food and water and to promise them that a bus will arrive soon to take them.”
According to report, the reservist said that the soldiers told him that the new procedures are being carried out in coordination with brigade level commanders, and that they had received praise from civil authorities about the procedure’s success in cutting down the number of illegal migrants in recent months.
He then relates an incident that happened a few days later, when he and his fellow reservists caught three migrants, a few dozen meters inside Egypt, and marched them a few kilometers to a spot where IDF officers handed them over to Egyptian police.
On two occasions Israeli soldiers marched the groups several kilometers (miles) along the border on the Egyptian side and handed them over to Egyptian police.
In the other, he writes that soldiers guarded a group of about 40 migrants, including women and a baby, for two days before the migrants "dispersed," and most of them crossed into Israel.
The NGOs said they fear these reports may indicate a new form of ‘Hot Returns’, in which the IDF return illegal migrants to Egypt shortly after they are caught in Israel. The NGOs say if this is the case it would constitute a violation of the international obligations which ban returning people to countries where they could face persecution.
The three rights group called on Israel to stop the practice.
"Israel is responsible for the action or omissions of its soldiers, whether they are located in Israeli or Egyptian territory," the report said. It added that they fear that "victims of physical and sexual abuse by traffickers in the Sinai desert may be among those returned."
The press release also asks whether or not such alleged actions by the IDF were responsible for the fact that only 248 illegal migrants entered Israel in July, a fraction of the number that arrived in the previous months.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit would not confirm if IDF soldiers are operating within Egypt, but said Friday that "the IDF is deployed along the areas of the border where the fence has been completed, in order to stop hostile terror attacks, as well as illegal smuggling and infiltration. In recent weeks, IDF forces have on a number of occasions had to stop the entry of infiltrators caught trying to illegally enter Israel, until Egyptian forces were able to come and take them."
The statement did not say if IDF soldiers were on Egyptian territory when these incidents took place.
Also on Friday, it was reported that IDF soldiers had spent the past few days guarding a group of Eritrean migrants stuck in a culvert under the Egyptian-Israel border, and preventing them from entering Israel.
The IDF said Friday that "in light of the foreigners' condition, humanitarian concerns, and the unique aspects of the situation, the decision was taken to make an exception and bring them onto the Israeli side of the fence."