sudanese jlem 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel has scored a major success in preventing infiltrations by Africans across the Sinai border by implementing its "hot return" procedure just one time, along with other elements of its program, the state told the High Court of Justice on Monday.
The state's representative, attorney Yochi Gnessin, was responding to a petition filed by six human rights groups against the government's declared policy of forcing Africans who cross the border to retrace their steps back to Egypt within several hours of their arrival on Israeli soil.
The petitioners are demanding that the government examine each case individually, to determine whether he is a legitimate asylum-seeker who might be eligible for refugee status.
Gnessin also told the High Court that the army was preparing a regulation instructing soldiers who questioned Africans immediately after their arrival to determine whether they should be returned immediately or held for further examination - particularly if they claimed their lives would be in danger if they were returned to Egypt.
According to Gnessin, more than 1,600 refugees crossed into Israel in June and July, some 65 percent of the entire number for all of 2007 so far.
On August 18, the cabinet implemented the "hot return" procedure for the first time, sending 45 out of 48 Africans back to Egypt within 10 hours of their arrival.
At the same time, the holding facility at Ketziot Prison in the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council was prepared for other refugees who had previously entered Israel. Many of these had arrived here without any processing at all and some had had found jobs in Eilat or elsewhere.
"Even if the policy of 'hot return' is implemented only once, twice or three times, it has already had a dramatic impact," Gnessin told the court. "The number of infiltrators since August has dropped by almost 50%. This is the result of the government's current policy as opposed to the previous state of chaos. In that period, infiltrators were released automatically. The state did not even know their names or where they went.
"The Africans in Egypt knew what was happening here. When they crossed the border into Israel and were stopped by soldiers, they named the hotels in Eilat where they wanted to work.
"Today, they know things aren't the same any more."
Gnessin also said that only one-third of the Africans who crossed the border illegally were legitimate asylum-seekers. The rest had either already found asylum in Egypt but wanted to improve their economic conditions, or had come here to find work and not because they qualified for refugee status. Even those who were genuine asylum-seekers had come to Egypt first, Gnessin said. Therefore, Egypt was responsible for dealing with them under international law.
Attorney Yonatan Berman, who pleaded on behalf of the petitioners, said the procedures for questioning the Africans were improper. Soldiers were not proper interrogators, he said, and the questions being asked were inadequate. Regarding those who had been returned to Egypt on August 18 under the hot return procedure, "all the soldiers asked them for was their names and where they came from and whether they had anything more to say. The refugees did not realize that this was the time to say their lives were in danger," Berman said.
He said that the army was currently preparing a questionnaire that all soldiers would be instructed to use when questioning Africans who crossed the border.The final draft would be ready by November 10, he said.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who presided over the hearing, gave the state 45 days to present the court with the finished document. After the petitioners respond to it, the court will reconvene.