Israel keeps mum on refugees in Egypt

Gov't official: Our job is not to give out grades to other countries.

sudanese refugees 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
sudanese refugees 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel will not take up with Egypt its tactic of stopping refugees along the border, said an Israeli government official Sunday, despite growing calls from human rights organizations who cite the Egyptians' "brutal tactics." "Our job is not to give out grades to other countries," said a government official, who added that various human rights groups have taken up the issue with Cairo. In a letter to Egypt's Ministry of Interior Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded an immediate investigation into allegations that Egyptian border officials brutally killed four Sudanese refugees as they tried to flee into Israel. The incident occurred on August 1, when Egyptian and Israeli soldiers both arrived at the border as four refugees attempted to cross into Israel. According to the Israeli soldiers, the Egyptians shot two of the refugees and then beat the other two to death. "What happened was a lynch," said one of the soldiers in an anonymous interview with Channel 10 news. "These are not men, they're animals. They killed him without even using firearms. We just heard screams of pain and the sounds of beatings. Then the screams stopped." The Egyptian government has refused to comment on the issue, leading HRW to send a letter to the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior to "order a full investigation" into the incident, and to allow "independent international investigators" to look into the allegations. It further demanded that the government "prosecute anyone identified as having unlawfully killed or injured any migrants through shooting or beating, and to hold accountable any other Egyptian official bearing responsibility for such incidents." While the HRW letter referred to the incident on August 1, there have been other instances of shootings along the border, including one case where a pregnant refugee was shot and killed. "The reported brutality of these killings is all the more shocking as it comes at a time when Egypt and Israel are discussing the issue of asylum seekers crossing into Israel," said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director of HRW. During a summit held in Sharm e-Sheikh in June, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reached an agreement whereby the refugees would be deported back to Egypt. The letter from HRW asked that Egypt make the details of any such agreement public. "It is very important to know what these two leaders discussed," Gasser Abdel-Razek, the HRW regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Daily News Egypt. "Of course we understand that governments have a right and duty to protect their borders, but they need to do so in accordance with international laws." HRW also pointed out that Egypt has signed both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary killings, including those resulting from unlawful or excessive use of force, and obligates states to investigate any such alleged killings; and the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits resort to force amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture, and requires states to investigate and prosecute any alleged incidents. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.