'IDF entering Egypt to stop entry of asylum seekers'

NGOs claim IDF soldiers entering Egypt, detaining individuals en route to Israel to seek asylum and handing them to Egyptians.

Sudanese detained after crossing southern border 311 (R) (photo credit: Yonathan Weitzman / Reuters)
Sudanese detained after crossing southern border 311 (R)
(photo credit: Yonathan Weitzman / Reuters)
IDF soldiers are entering Egyptian territory to detain asylum-seekers and turn them over to Egyptian authorities before they enter Israel, according to a report released on Friday.
In a press release sent out on Friday, Israeli NGOs said they feared this report may indicate a new form of “hot returns,” in which the IDF returns illegal migrants to Egypt shortly after they are caught in Israel. The NGOs said if this is the case it would constitute a violation of the international obligations which ban returning people to countries where they could face persecution.
The NGOs, including Amnesty International Israel, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Assaf, Physicians for Human Rights and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel say they have received reports from an Israeli reserve soldier as well as asylum-seekers in Israel that say IDF soldiers “are entering Egypt, detaining individuals as they make their way to seek asylum in Israel, and then handing them over to the Egyptian security forces.”
The press release also asked whether or not such alleged actions by the IDF were responsible for the fact that only 248 illegal migrants entered the country in July, a fraction of the number that arrived in the previous months.
The NGOs said they raised the issue with the IDF in July, and were told by the legal adviser to the Southern Command, Sagiv Leichtman, that the army did not resume the “hot return” procedure.
The NGOs said Leichtman “stressed that this activity does not violate Israel’s obligations under international law or according to the Supreme Court’s ruling since it is targeting people who are not in Israeli territory with the purpose of preventing them from entering and violating Israel’s sovereignty.”
The statement included an affidavit presented by attorney Anat Ben-Dor, in which an IDF reservist said that in June 2012 he was taken to a briefing given by reservist soldiers who served at the border site before him, who told him of a new procedure to stop “infiltrators” before they arrive at the border by stationing soldiers hundreds of meters inside Egypt.
The reservist said his predecessors told them that to prevent “infiltrators” from escaping, they would “give them the illusion that they have arrived to the territory of Israel by not using aggressive behavior, displays of tension, or threats with our weapons. They suggested that we receive those that come with the blessing ‘Welcome to Israel,’ to act friendly, to ask the purpose for their arrival, to offer food and water and to promise them that a bus will arrive soon to take them.”
The reservist said the soldiers told him the new procedures are being carried out in coordination with brigade-level commanders, and that they had received praise from civil authorities about the procedure’s success in cutting down the number of illegal migrants in recent months.
He then related an incident that took place a few days later, when he and his fellow reservists caught three migrants, a few dozen meters inside Egypt, and marched them several kilometers to a spot where IDF officers handed them over to Egyptian police.
He also described arresting a group of 40 people, including 10 women, some girls and an infant, in a valley inside Egypt, where they guarded the group for eight hours, before being replaced by brigade-level commanders.
The soldier said something went wrong in the liaison with the Egyptians and the group dispersed at night, with most of them making their way into Israel. In the press release sent out on Friday, the NGOs said they are in touch with members of that group who made it into Israel, who told them that those in their group who were returned are today being held in a police station in northern Sinai.
A later incident described by the reservist included a group of 40 Sudanese men, the reservist states, all of whom were returned by force to Egyptian police.
The IDF Spokesman Office would not confirm if soldiers are operating within Egypt, but said Friday that “the IDF is deployed along the areas of the border where the fence has been completed, in order to stop hostile terrorist attacks, as well as illegal smuggling and infiltration.
In recent weeks, IDF units have on a number of occasions had to stop the entry of infiltrators caught trying to illegally enter Israel, until Egyptian forces were able to come and take them.”
The statement did not say if IDF soldiers were on Egyptian territory when these incidents took place.