2,400 refugees reportedly crossed into Israel this year

African asylum-seekers claim Egyptian guards are 'stepping up brute force' at the Sinai border to stop the flow.

Darfur refugee 88 (photo credit: )
Darfur refugee 88
(photo credit: )
Around 2,400 African refuge-seekers have crossed into Israel from Sinai in the past three months, despite an increased use of force by Egyptian soldiers guarding the border. In the past two weeks, Egyptian soldiers shot and killed four refugees who were trying to enter Israel, according to human rights organizations in northern Egypt. Refugees currently in Israel said the Egyptians had long used "brute force" against the Africans, but that they had stepped up the use of that force due to "pressure from Israel." "Israel does not want to dirty its hands, using its own soldiers to kill refugees on the border - and they know the Egyptians have no problem doing this," said Dal, an Eritrean refugee who helps run a shelter near the Tel Aviv central bus station. Dal has long scars running from his left forearm to his shoulder. He said they were the result of abuse that he suffered from his previous employer in Egypt, but would not elaborate. "Israel should not be surprised we come here... We do not come to be a burden, we simply want a chance," he said. The most recent refugees are mostly Eritreans such as Dal. Israeli government officials, United Nations High Commission for Refugees workers, and nongovernmental organizations who work with African refugees said there were almost 7,000 refugees currently in Israel, 2,400 of whom arrived since January 1 - a markedly higher figure for 2008 than previously estimated. Last month, a three-week deadline was set for all of Israel's relevant authorities to establish a cohesive policy regarding the African refugees. That deadline expires next week. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed the Public Security, Defense and Interior ministries to determine a long-term strategy. Officials said they had held meetings on the issue, but would not release details of their plan until next week. "Most of the refugees will be deported and sent elsewhere," said Ya'acov Ganot, the head of the Interior Ministry's Population Administration, during a meeting of the Knesset's Committee on Foreign Workers last month. Olmert has been increasingly criticized over the lack of a cohesive policy regarding the thousands of refugees who have crossed into Israel over the past three years. That criticism has only grown as the stream of refugees entering Israel from Egypt has mushroomed in recent months.