“We’ve interviewed hundreds of asylum-seekers and nearly all told us that some people in their group were shot and left behind while attempting to cross the border.
The Sons of Darfur, an NGO assisting asylum-seekers in Israel, concurred that many more were being killed than reports suggested. ”We expect Israel to pressure the Egyptians to stop shooting at asylum-seekers at the border,” said the NGO’s director, Yassin (his only name).
Incidents in September
The most recent reported incident at the Egypt-Israel border was on 20 September when a Sudanese asylum-seeker was shot dead, according to the Egyptian police.
This incident followed one on 16 September when two Eritrean asylum-seekers were shot dead, and at the start of the month when four African asylum-seekers were killed.
According to Amnesty International, their killings brought the number of Africans shot dead at the border to 14 so far in 2009 while 28 were killed in 2008
Scores more reach Israel wounded, according to NGOs, volunteers and leaders in the asylum-seeker community as well as hospital records and IDF soldiers.
IRIN met several asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv who said they had been shot at the border; they displayed wounds varying from bullet grazes to major gunshot injuries.
In response to Amnesty International’s allegations, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hossam Zaki issued a statement defending the use of lethal force by border guards, saying the “protection of the Egyptian borders stems from Egypt’s respect for international law and international commitments”.
He said asylum-seekers were only fired upon “after they ignore the warnings of the border guards” and said policing the border was difficult because of the “smuggling of weapons, drugs and goods”.
“These individuals appeared to pose no threat to the lives of the border guards or anyone else. Attempted border crossings are not a capital offence,” said Joe Stork, associate Middle East director at the New York-based pressure group Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Some 24 000 asylum-seekers have illegally entered Israel through its southern border in the past five years, according to estimates by Israel’s Ministry of Interior.
Estimates of the number of asylum-seekers in Israel today vary from 17 000, as registered by the UN Refugee Agency, to some 24 000, as claimed by the Israeli immigration authority.
According to sources in the IDF and immigration authority, asylum-seekers are crossing the Egypt-Israel border at a rate of 400-600 every month, despite the grave dangers.
Pic: Egpyt – Gaza border