Israel has no legal obligation to allow a group of African migrants waiting on the western side of the Egypt-Israel border fence to enter the country, the government said on Wednesday.

In a statement sent to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, a government spokesman said that “according to international practices and binding precedents, the fence is a de facto border, and therefore anyone who is beyond it is not located in Israeli territory and is therefore not eligible for automatic entry.”

“There has been no determination by any international body according to which Sudanese or Eritrean citizens are persecuted in Egypt or that their lives are in danger. Therefore, there is no legal obligation to allow entry into Israel of those who are near the fence,” the spokesman continued.

The statement was sent as a group of 20 African migrants spent their sixth day crouched against the Egypt-Israel border fence, unable to enter Israel and not willing to remain in Egypt, where they could face abuse by Beduin smugglers, or be returned to their home countries by Egyptian authorities, where they would likely face persecution since they are assumed to be from Eritrea.

On Wednesday, a group of activists 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 before 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.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Wednesday said, “I am not indifferent to the suffering of the infiltrators next to the border, but it is my responsibility to first worry about [Israel] and its citizens.”

He vowed that Israel “will continue its police of defending its identity, even at the expense of criticism from within Israel and around the world. This is not out of a desire to do the infiltrators wrong, it is out of a desire to take care of the country and our children.”

Yishai’s statement goes on to quote the Prime Minister’s Office, saying the office had said that on Wednesday, the Attorney-General’s Office ruled that the state is not legally required to allow the migrants to enter Israel.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said that no such statement was made by Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein on Wednesday, and they do not know what Yishai’s office based this upon.

The interior minister’s comments came a week after he said that he would start working to jail and deport Sudanese migrants 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 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-yearold girl and two women, one of whom was in the latter months of her pregnancy when she reportedly had a miscarriage on Tuesday.

“The State of Israel has a moral responsibility to carry out the steps to examine if these are asylum workers who would face danger to their lives if they are not allowed to enter Israel and are sent back to where they came from,” she said.

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 deadset on not being returned to Egyptian authorities.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in response, “According to directions by the political echelon and the government, IDF forces are working to prevent illegal aliens from entering Israel through its western border.

“One of the efforts toward achieving this is the construction of a fence along the border. On the western side of the fence, facing Egypt, there is a group of migrants and their entry to Israel is prevented by said fence,” the office said.

Due to humanitarian concerns the IDF is also giving the migrants food and 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 Spokesman’s 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 stating 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.

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