Wednesday, November 12, 2008

REUTERS - Egypt must stop shooting migrants at border: HRW

Wed. 12 Nov. 2008,

By Cynthia Johnston

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt must stop shooting African migrants, including Sudanese refugees fleeing Darfur, when they try to make the dangerous trek over the Sinai desert border into Israel, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The U.S.-based rights group, in a report on the perils of African migration between Egypt and Israel, said Egyptian security forces had shot or bludgeoned to death at least 33 mainly African migrants at the Israeli border since July 2007.

Israel, meanwhile, has forced back to Egypt scores of African migrants who crossed into its territory, without first allowing them to present refugee claims. Their fate once back in Egyptian hands remains unknown, Human Rights Watch said.

"Egyptian border police in the Sinai are using lethal force to stop migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from crossing into Israel. The youngest victim we know of is a 7-year-old girl," Bill Van Esveld, who wrote the report, told a news conference.

"The Egyptian government needs to send a clear message that shooting defenceless, harmless, threatless people at the border needs to stop immediately," he said.

Egypt for years tolerated hundreds of thousands of migrants on its territory but its attitude hardened in 2007 after it came under Israeli pressure to stop growing numbers of Africans trying to cross into the Jewish state.

Human Rights Watch said 13,000 migrants had travelled through Egypt and crossed the border into Israel since 2006.

Egypt cracked down hard. Egyptian forces shot dead a pregnant woman from Darfur at the border in July 2007. Later, Israeli soldiers saw Egyptian guards bludgeon several wounded migrants to death, the rights report said, citing Israeli media.

"We heard them crying and screeching in pain until they died," one soldier was reported to have told Israel's Channel 10, according to Human Rights Watch.

Since then, Egyptian police have killed an average of more than two migrants a month at the frontier, although Human Rights Watch says the real number of migrant deaths in the Sinai may be significantly higher than the 33 it has reported.

"People in the refugee communities in Cairo are really anxious that people go toward the border and they never hear from them again," Van Esveld said.

Egyptian foreign ministry officials could not be reached for comment, but Egypt has said previously it is trying to balance security with respect for international obligations.

The report said Israel was violating rights of migrants, including refugees from religious persecution in Eritrea or conflict in Darfur, which Washington has called genocide.

The report urged Israel to stop forcing migrants back to Egypt, where they face military trials and possible deportation to home countries where they could face death or torture.

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