Support The New Humanitarian today

Asylum-seekers run the gauntlet in Sinai desert

African refugees attempt to keep warm by huddling in the sunshine, at the tent compound for asylum seekers at Ktsiyot prison.
(Tamar Dressler/IRIN)

Egyptian soldiers have killed 19 and arrested some 587 African asylum-seekers attempting to cross the border into Israel this year, according to a statement by an Egyptian government official to reporters in Cairo on 8 August.

Amnesty International released a statement on 20 August, calling on the Egyptian authorities to end the killings. In a letter to Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak the group urged him "to end the use of lethal force against African migrants attempting to cross Egypt's borders into Israel."

Many of the migrants had fled conflict in their home countries before spending several difficult years in Egypt, but were tempted by better prospects in Israel.

"I knew it would be extremely dangerous," said Z., a 35-year-old Congolese man, of his attempt to cross the border.

He said he made the journey hoping for a "better life and greater freedom".

On the night of 10 August, he began his trip, walking for over six hours to reach the border. "I began crossing the first of three wire fences when I heard shooting from behind; the Egyptian [soldiers] had spotted me," he told IRIN from a friend's apartment in Tel Aviv. "I ran and a bullet hit my leg."

He said Israeli troops picked him up and took him to hospital.

While generally the Israeli soldiers have been seen as treating the “infiltrators” fairly, some cases have been reported of them opening fire - in one recent case killing an asylum-seeker trying to sneak across the border.

Photo: Martina Fuchs/IRIN
About 500,000 refugees from 38 nationalities live in Egypt. Many face unemployment, difficult living conditions and xenophobia in the host country

Israeli-Egyptian agreement

In 2007, Israel and Egypt reached an agreement whereby Egypt would clamp down more on its side of the border.

Rights groups in Israel say this has led to more cases of asylum-seekers arriving wounded, or families being broken up. Recently, two young girls, aged eight and seven, arrived in Israel alone, after being separated from their mother during the dash across the border.

Asylum-seekers say those detained are sentenced to various terms in Egyptian prisons, and recently about 1,200 Eritrean asylum-seekers were sent back to their homeland by Egypt.

According to Amnesty, most of the men have been detained at military training camps in Eritrea.

Asylum-seekers who made it into Israel described their crossing as involving luck. They may pay hundreds of dollars per person to those who help smuggle them across, but the payments do not come with a guarantee of success.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Support The New Humanitarian

Your support helps us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.