IDF breaks own rules, expels 91 Africans

State stresses expulsions were coordinated with Cairo, Egypt will deal with infiltrators lawfully.

Sudanese refugees 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sudanese refugees 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The army recently expelled 91 Africans who crossed the border into Israel from Egypt - in violation of its own procedures, which it presented to the High Court of Justice less than four months ago. In an affidavit presented to the court on Monday, obtained by The Jerusalem Post, the state admitted that the 91 infiltrators, who came from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia, had been returned to Egypt on four separate occasions between August 23 and August 29. It stressed that the expulsions had been conducted in coordination with Cairo and added that Egypt had informed Israel that the infiltrators would be dealt with by Egyptian legal authorities. Hotline for Migrant Workers attorney Anat Bendor charged, however, that Egypt had not guaranteed that the Africans would not be returned to their home countries. She referred to a Reuters report quoting Egyptian officials as saying that the infiltrators would be repatriated. It is known that Sudanese refugees from Darfur face the threat of death, while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has issued orders stating that all countries must grant temporary asylum with the right to work to refugees from Eritrea. "The policy of 'coordinated return' grossly violates Israel's legal obligations towards refugees fleeing for their lives," Bendor said, "and the first one is the prohibition to return refugees to the place where their lives are in danger or where they might be tortured." The affidavit filed Monday was attached to a response by the state on behalf of the Defense Ministry after a group of human rights organizations headed by the Hotline for Migrant Workers asked the court for an interim injunction to suspend the "coordinated return" procedure until it ruled on the core of the petition to prohibit the procedure altogether. The court had rejected the organizations' initial request for an interim injunction when the petition was first filed in August 2007, after Israel expelled 48 Africans soon after they crossed the border. In May, the state informed the High Court that it was training soldiers to carry out the immediate expulsion of Africans, in coordination with Egyptian authorities and in accordance with regulations prepared by the high command. In its brief to the court, the state presented the regulations, which stated that a soldier who stops an African as soon as he crosses the border must question him according to a standard questionnaire prepared by the army and document his answers. The soldier must then hand the questionnaire over to a superior officer authorized to decide, on the basis of the document, whether or not to expel the infiltrator. If the superior officer is uncertain about what to do, he must refer the problem to a more senior officer or to the legal adviser of the army's Southern Command. The procedure must be carried out within three hours, or within six hours if a group of infiltrators is caught together. "We clarified to the officers in the field that they did not act in accordance with the binding commands regarding 'coordinated return,'" Lt.-Col. Yoel Strick, who is in charge of most of the border between Egypt and Israel, wrote in Monday's affidavit. "It was explained to them that it is important to carry out the details of the order with emphasis on questioning [the infiltrators] and documenting their answers in accordance with the personal questionnaire."