Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Wednesday that he has no plans of allowing the African migrants stuck in limbo on the Egypt-Israel border to enter the country, army radio reported.
"We must act with a heavy hand, with a very clear policy and a border fence," he said. "We cannot let them enter."
IDF troops have been standing guard on the Egypt-Israel border over a group of around 20 African migrants – including a pregnant woman – for the past five days.
The migrants are stuck on the wrong side of the border fence, but within the territory of the State of Israel, yet being kept from entering the country by the soldiers. At the same time they are refusing to be sent back to Egypt.
The IDF Spokesman’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.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On slammed the interior minister for his "obsessive xenophobia", which she said, was blinding his judgement and leading to "violations of international law, which requires the provision of refuge to asylum seekers persecuted in their countries."
"We have already got used to Yishai's moral apathy," said Gal-On. "But starving, ignoring and abandoning asylum seekers at the border is outrageous, both legally and morally."
In light of these developments, Gal-On sent an urgent appeal Wednesday to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, calling on him to immediately order the entry of the group of 20 Eritrean migrants into Israel in order to enable a proper investigation into their status.
"The State of Israel is morally obligated to conduct proceedings to clarify whether these are asylum seekers who may face danger as a result of the denial of asylum in Israel, or from being deported back to where they came from," the Meretz leader said in her letter.
In early August, it was reported that 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 to 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 Border Authority announced this week that over the course of the month of August only 200 illegal migrants entered Israel, as opposed to 2,000 in August 2011.