IDF soldiers returned dozens of African migrants to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula two weeks ago, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel reported on Thursday.

If true, the soldiers’ actions could well be a violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, of which Israel is a signatory.

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According to PHR-Israel, a 20-year-old Eritrean man who came to the organization’s free clinic in Jaffa at the beginning of March said that in late February, he had been part of a group of 67 African migrants who reached Israeli territory after being held for ransom in Beduin-run camps in the Sinai.

PHR-Israel said the man had told them that he and the other migrants had been caught by IDF troops and split into two groups, with men and women taken into custody separately. The man told the organization that he and the other men had been held handcuffed and blindfolded from 9 a.m. until midnight, when the army began driving them in groups of 10 to the border with Egypt. There, they reportedly told them to cross and began shooting in the air to draw Egyptian troops to the area.

The Eritrean man said he had managed to escape from the Egyptian soldiers and made his way to Eilat after wandering through the desert for three days without food or water.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office responded to the report on Thursday, saying in a statement that “the nature of our treatment of infiltrators, including their detention and medical treatment, is in accordance with IDF orders that have been presented to the Supreme Court and are also in keeping with the state of Israel’s obligations to international law.”

In the incident in question, as well, it said, “the IDF operated according to these requirements.”

The statement added that the IDF “has detailed regulations under which it is allowed to return migrants to the Egyptian authorities by way of the Egyptian border – regulations that have already been presented to the High Court of Justice. These regulations are [also] in keeping with the Israel’s obligations to international law.”

In a statement on Thursday, PHR-Israel said it “stridently condemns the IDF conduct and the returning of refugees to Egypt without even examining their requests [for asylum]. This is a serious incident, which violates the convention to protect refugees, which forbids the return of asylum-seekers to a place where their lives or their freedom will be at risk.”

The statement added that “while the state has declared before the High Court that it will not return refugees to the countries they came from without working to ensure their safety and without the use of interrogations, there is a huge gap between the country’s declarations and the severe actions carried out on the border with Egypt.

“The serious implications of returning refugees to Sinai is further validated by recent reports on the torture suffered by asylum-seekers in Egypt and the fact that Egypt is known for returning refugees the countries they fled,” the group said.

According to a PHR-Israel report from late February, the majority of African migrants who reported for treatment at the Jaffa clinic said they had been held against their will and/or subjected to systematic physical abuse during their time in Sinai en route to Israel.

The group said 52% of migrants treated at the clinic reported suffering physical abuse, and 44% said they had witnessed violence and fatalities suffered by other migrants.

A week earlier, the Hotline for Migrant Workers released a report which detailed beatings, rape, murder and extortion that African migrants reported suffering at the hands of Beduin smugglers.

Reports have surfaced that the smuggling gangs use Eritrean and Sudanese collaborators in Israel who help them extort the money from the relatives of their captives.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hold a hearing on a petition issued in 2007 by PHRIsrael, asking that the state cease “hot returns” of migrants arrested after crossing into Israel.

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