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Deportation of 50 Africans sparks concern

 African refugee children in Kadesh Barnea, Israel.
(Shabtai Gold/IRIN)

 Israel deported to Egypt on 19 August some 50 asylum seekers who had illegally crossed the border over the weekend. The move has been legalised by the state's attorney-general but criticised by rights groups.

Most of the asylum seekers were from the war-torn Darfur region in Sudan.

[Read this story in Arabic]

Dov Khanin, an opposition member of Israel's Knesset (parliament) told reporters: "This is against international law. Israel has no guarantee that Egypt will not deport these asylum seekers back to Sudan and other countries where their lives will be in great danger."

Some 2,500 African refugees and asylum seekers have entered Israel in the past two years. About 1,800 are from Sudan, including some 500 from Darfur, government data indicated. The rest are from various African countries (mostly conflict zones), including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

Many complained of ill-treatment while in Egypt - from daily discrimination and racism to extreme harassment and violence.

Some of the 50 entered the country before dawn on 16 August, while most came through the following night.

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 New wave of Sudanese refugees faces uncertain future

 Israeli NGOs strive to release jailed refugees

Menachem Mazuz, the attorney-general, said the asylum seekers were not "expelled" from Israel but rather "prevented entry".

Critics, however, said most had been inside Israel for more than 24 hours. "Mazuz's claims are legally and factually wrong," Anat Ben Dor from Tel Aviv University's Legal Clinic told IRIN. "Once an asylum seeker enters Israeli territory, his claim must be heard before deportation."

Deal with Egypt

This is the first time Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has followed through on a July announcement saying the state would send back to Egypt all "infiltrators", as part of a deal struck with Egypt.

However, Cairo has made contradictory statements regarding its willingness to take back the refugees, something which has sparked further concern about their fate.

No information has been made available regarding the 50 recently sent back.

Human rights groups say they will protest the deportation near Olmert's residence in Jerusalem on 22 August.

Refugee community scared

For refugees already inside Israel news of the deportations came as a shock.

"I will never go back to Egypt, never," said one woman, who asked that her name not be used. Originally from south Sudan, she has been in Israel for about three months and is still awaiting refugee status.

She said her three years in Egypt were "terrible and difficult".

Along with some 50 other Sudanese, she lives in the small village of Kadesh Barnea, near the Israel-Egypt border, where a resident has agreed to host them. Volunteers have also come to help.

"When we told them about the deportations, you could see panic in their eyes, they were scared," said Samira, a volunteer.

"I don't understand this decision, these are good people running away from horrible things," said Avishai Pinchas, the host.


Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
A painting by Sudanese refugees in Israel depicting life in south Sudan. It was shown at a demonstration in Jerusalem

Pinchas managed to obtain letters of protection for his group, making sure they cannot be deported for the next few weeks. After that - volunteers and refugees alike are aware - everything is up in the air.

Dangerous journey

Most of the asylum seekers cross the border in the dead of night not far from Kadesh Barnea. The trip over the border is considered dangerous, due to physical obstacles, both natural and artificial, as well as the threat of being shot, primarily by Egyptian border police.

Several refugees have been killed near the border, and locals claim many more were killed but that the information did not reach the media.

Israeli soldiers serving in the area, who arrest the asylum seekers as they come over, told IRIN they usually hear gunshots prior to receiving a new group of refugees.

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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: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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