You have reached the main content

HRW: Israel is Complicit in Egyptian Abuses of Forcibly Returned Migrants

On December 15, 2009

Human Rights Watch called on the Israeli Supreme Court to forbid the IDF to continue forcibly returning to Egypt refugees and migrants who cross the Sinai border. In the current policy, Israel doesn't allow the migrants to seek asylum, forcing them instead to return to Egypt. In Egypt, the African migrants face prison terms, mistreatment and deportation back to their country of origin. According to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, "Israel becomes complicit in those abuses when it forces migrants and asylum seekers back into Egyptian custody."

In the first eight months of 2009, Israel forcibly returned 217 migrants to Egypt. Those migrants are not given an opportunity to present asylum claims or contact the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) while on the Israeli side of the border. In the "hot returns" policy soldiers basically interrogate the migrants who cross the border to determine if any of them is from Darfur. If they are not, they are sent back to Egypt. Egypt has sent back several migrants who were granted a refugee status by the UNHCR to Sudan, and 1,200 Eritreans that Israel had forcibly returned, despite the torture and maltreatment they face back home.

According to the testimony of a soldier who participated in the forced return of Eritrean migrants, commander on the ground are supposed to consider whether there would be a "concrete and imminent danger to the life of the infiltrator in Egypt upon his return to Egypt". This is a much higher threshold than the international law standard, stipulated in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits forcible returns where there is a risk of "persecution". Israel is a signatory of that treaty, and based on Egypt's poor track record, the forcible return of the migrants to Egypt clearly exposes them to the risk of persecution.