sudanese refugees 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel has a moral imperative to provide shelter to Sudanese refugees and to refrain from deporting them to Egypt, according to a petition signed by more than half of the Knesset this week.
The document was signed by 63 MKs from across the political spectrum including opposition chairman Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) and MKs Amir Peretz (Labor), Effie Eitam (National Union-National Religious Party) and Dov Henin (Hadash). It was initiated by students from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
"The refugees need protection and sanctuary, and the Jewish people's history as well as democratic and humanitarian values make it a moral imperative for us to give them that shelter," the petition read.
The MKs proposed that Israel allow the refugees to stay until an arrangement could be made to find them asylum abroad. In the past, Ghana, Kenya and Eritrea have been suggested as possible safe havens.
The legislators also suggested that the government implement its plan to build a security fence between Israel and Egypt to block the smuggling route that allows the refugees to enter Israel.
More than 2,400 Africans seeking refugee status are are currently in Israel, nearly half of them from Sudan. Last month, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he had reached an agreement with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to deport the refugees.
The decision was denounced by NGOs who said that there were human rights abuses being perpetrated against the refugees in Egypt and that Mubarak could not assure their safety.
While the government has said it would consider allowing the 300 to 400 refugees from Darfur to stay, the MKs petition calls for all the Sudanese to be given asylum.
As part of the agreement, Egypt has been stepping up efforts to stop the flow of refugees into Israel. This week, IDF soldiers patrolling the border said the Egyptians had taken overly aggressive measures.
In an interview with Channel 10 news on Thursday night, an IDF reserve soldier said he saw Egyptian soldiers kill four Sudanese who were crossing the border.
According to the soldier, female IDF troops using night vision devices identified several refugees approaching the border in an attempt to infiltrate Israel and alerted other soldiers, who arrived after a few minutes in an army jeep.
However Egyptian troops fired upon the refugees, immediately killing two and wounding a third. A fourth refugee ran towards the fence and an IDF soldier stretched out his hands, trying to help him cross.
At that point, the reserve soldier said, two Egyptian soldiers arrived and started pulling at the refugee's legs.
"It was literally like we were playing 'tug of war' with this man," the soldier said. The soldier eventually loosened his grip on the man, fearing the Egyptians would shoot him.
"They were aiming loaded weapons straight at us. I was afraid they were going to shoot us," he said.
The Egyptians then carried the man several meters away from the border fence and proceeded to beat him and the wounded refugee to death with stones and clubs.
"What happened there yesterday was a lynch. These are not men, they're animals. They killed him without even using firearms," the soldier said. "We just heard screams of pain and the sounds of beatings. Then the screams stopped."
The entire event was caught on IDF tapes, but the soldier said his commanders, who were not at the site, would not dare watch them.
A Channel 10 commentator said the station preferred not to broadcast the tape, so as not to cause a diplomatic row with Egypt.
Egyptian authorities said that they would investigate the incident.