Egypt kills 3 African migrants in Sinai border ‘death zone’

Spate of shootings in last four days brings total this year to 12, says Human Rights Watch.

April 2, 2010 00:35
2 minute read.
Refugees from Sudan on the Israeli side of the bor

sudanese refugees egypt 311. (photo credit: AP)

Three African migrants seeking to illegally cross into Israel from the Sinai Peninsula were shot dead by Egyptian security forces over the past four days, according to a report released on Thursday by Human Rights Watch.

The report said the recent shootings brought the total number of people killed under similar circumstances to 12 since the start of 2010.

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“Egyptian guards have made the Sinai border a death zone for migrants trying to flee the country,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “What’s more, the Egyptian government has not investigated even a single case of the 69 killings of migrants by border guards since 2007.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from Cairo on Thursday, Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef said the shootings were part of a strategy employed by Egypt aimed at dissuading future African migrants from making the same journey.

“I think the fact that the information about each individual shooting is made public by the [Egyptian] security forces shows that this is deterrent policy,” she said.

“We were all more optimistic at the start of 2009 because there was a lull in the shooting for five month[s]. We took that as a sign to show that this practice can in fact be stopped,” Morayef said. “But then the shootings returned.”

In Thursday’s report, Human Rights Watch referred to a statement made last month by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who said that she knew of “of no other country where so many unarmed migrants and asylum seekers appear to have been deliberately killed this way by government forces.”

The statement drew an angry response from the Egyptian government, which released a statement through its Foreign Ministry’s Web site in March describing Navi’s statement as being “full of inaccuracies, false allegations” and lacking “the professionalism and impartiality that Egypt expected from such an important international post.”

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch said Egypt has since “provided no details about the alleged inaccuracies.

“In this case, we are not dealing with a big structural problem that involves a lot of bureaucracy or cultural gaps. The shootings policy began in mid-2007, and as such, we believe it can be easily stopped with a political decision,” Morayef said. “We will keep the pressure on.” Morayef added that Israel had a role to play as well in pressuring Cairo to stop the shootings of migrants and not deporting them back to Egypt.

“In our understanding, we trace the beginning of the policy back to a meeting between [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak and [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert at the end of June 2007, after which Olmert made a statement saying an agreement was reached to end infiltrations. I believe Israeli pressure plays a big role. Our recommendation in general is for countries to uphold legal obligations, which means Israel not returning migrants back to Egypt without prior assessment to decide whether they are potential asylum seekers,” she added.

Human Rights Watch added that “the Egyptian authorities have arrested a number of refugees over the past month, one of whom remains missing, and the authorities also appear to be preparing to deport two refugees from Darfur back to Sudan, where they face detention and torture.”

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