The IDF is preventing volunteers from giving food and water to a group of African migrants that has spent the past five days huddled against the western side of the Israel-Egypt border fence, within Israeli territory but unable to enter the country.
A group of activists said Wednesday said that when they arrived around midnight Tuesday at the stretch of the fence near Kadesh Barnea they were sent away by IDF troops who showed them a warrant issued the night earlier ruling the area a closed military zone.
In addition, they said that they spoke to a battalion commander at the scene who told them that the army is not providing food for the migrants.
On Wednesday morning the organization sent another carload of volunteers to the fence with food and water to pass on to the migrants.
When asked about the situation at the border, Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Army Radio that while it’s difficult for him to see footage of the group of migrants “I am the one who must make these difficult decisions and if it is between choosing what's best for the country, the citizens, and our security, I favor a fence and that refugees will not enter Israel and will return to their country."
Yishai, who typically uses the term "infiltrators" to describe African migrants, added "every day there will be refugees who get stuck there [the fence]. If we are not determined there will be a million refugees and foreign workers and the Zionist project will be harmed. We must use a strong, clear hand -- through using a fence and detention facilities and the willful return of migrants."
Yishai also called on African countries to shoulder the burden and take care of the people stuck at the border.
Yishai’s comments came a week after he said that he would start working to jail and deport north Sudanese beginning in mid-October, adding that he would also try to find ways to deport Eritrean migrants, who make up the vast majority of the more than 60,000 African migrants in Israel. Both Eritreans and north Sudanese would be in danger of persecution if returned to their home countries by Israel.
Meretz party head Zehava Gal-On called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to allow the entry of the Eritrean migrants, so they can have their asylum requests heard.
Gal-On quotes reports that the group includes a 14-year-old girl and two women, one of whom was in the latter months of her pregnancy when she reportedly had a miscarriage Tuesday.
"The state of Israel has a moral responsibility to carry out the steps to examine if these are asylum-seekers who would face danger to their lives if they are not allowed to enter Israel and are sent back to where they came from."
The group of around 20 migrants are at the moment sitting on the desert floor in a sort of limbo, within Israeli territory but on the wrong side of the border fence, and dead-set on not being returned to Egyptian authorities.
The IDF Spokesperson’s office said Tuesday that “in the area in question the border has been completed recently in order to stop unapproved entry to Israel. On the Western side of the border, turning towards Egypt, is a group of foreigners whose entry to Israel is being prevented by the fence. Due to humanitarian concerns the IDF is giving them water."
A similar incident took place in early August, when a group of African migrants became stuck in a culvert under the Egyptian-Israel border and were being guarded by IDF troops. The IDF Spokespersons Office said at the time that "in light of the foreigners' condition, humanitarian concerns, and the unique aspects of the situation, the decision was taken to make an exception and bring them onto the Israeli side of the fence."
Also in August, a group of Israeli NGOs released a report that stated that IDF soldiers are patrolling hundreds of meters within Egyptian territory in order to detain asylum seekers before they reach Israel and turn them over to Egyptian authorities.
According to official government figures, the nearly-complete border fence has significantly cut down on the amount of illegal migrants crossing into Israel. The Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority announced this week that over the course of August only 200 illegal migrants entered Israel, as opposed to 2,000 last August.