Sudanese refugees 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Egypt must provide human rights workers access to the dozens of refugees who were deported from Israel, the Human Rights Watch organization said Saturday, citing reports that the lives of many of the refugees were in danger.
In August, Israel deported 48 African refugees - 44 Sudanese, three Ivorians and a Somali - to Egypt as part of an agreement between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Hosni Mubarak. As reported last week in The Jerusalem Post, Egypt deported at least five of those refugees to Sudan in late October, violating the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Israel and Egypt are both signatories. The convention says it is illegal to forcibly transfer or return of any person to a place in which his or her life or freedom would be threatened.
The deported Sudanese could face persecution because they sought asylum in Israel, a country listed by Sudan as an enemy state. In September, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry released a statement reaffirming its position on Israel's status, and adding that it would "firmly punish" any Sudanese discovered to have visited Israel.
"Egypt's apparent decision to forcibly return Sudanese asylum seekers is unconscionable," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East director. "We are extremely worried by Egypt's failure to account for these people. The entire incident reveals Egypt and Israel's shared disregard for the plight of Sudanese fleeing Darfur."
HRW issued a statement saying that the migrants had been held in incommunicado detention in Egypt since their arrest.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR,) said it, too, was concerned about the fate of the Sudanese and complained that Egyptian authorities had so far denied its representatives access to the 48 migrants.
A UNHCR spokeswoman in Cairo said 23 of the migrants were either recognized as refugees or had pending refugee applications, while the others could be in danger upon their return to Sudan because they had spent time in Israel.
More than 2,400 African refugees, including 1,700 from Sudan, have crossed into Israel in recent years. Israel has agreed to grant asylum to 500 refugees from Sudan's war-torn western province of Darfur, while seeking to send the rest to other countries.
While the official government policy remains that the refugees will be deported to Egypt, several organizations are working to send them to Ghana, Kenya, or Ethiopia.
On Friday, hundreds of Israelis marched through central Tel Aviv in protest of the government's deportation policy. Several dozen of the Sudanese refugees took part in the march.