Rights group: Egypt must stop shooting migrants

Cites border guards for killing some 33 refugees since '07, slams Israeli deportation policy.

Sudanese atBorder 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
Sudanese atBorder 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
Egypt should stop shooting unarmed migrants as they try to sneak across the barbed wire border to Israel in a desperate journey that has gone from dangerous to deadly, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday in a new report. Since 2007, Egyptian border guards have killed at least 33 migrants, many from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region including a pregnant woman and a 7-year-old girl, the report said. Many more have been wounded in an apparent response by Egypt to international pressure that it doesn't do enough to secure its borders, it said. Those detained by Egypt guards at the border are put on trial in secret military courts and often denied access to the UN refugee agency in violation of international law, the 90-page report by the New York-based group added. The report also accused Israel of forcibly returning at least 139 African migrants back to Egypt, where they risk arrest and deportation. "Egypt should stop shooting migrants who pose no threat and deporting others to possible torture," said Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director. "Israel should not be forcibly returning people to Egypt, where they are detained arbitrarily and even deported to abusive home countries." One Sudanese refugee from Darfur talked to The Associated Press about his unsuccessful attempt to cross the rugged Sinai Peninsula border in July 2007. He spoke from his home in Cairo, but refused to give his name, fearing reprisals from the Egyptian government. He said Egyptian border guards opened fire on him, his family and about three dozen other African migrants at they waited for their smuggler to finish cutting a hole in the barbed wire fence border. "We all fell to the ground. I saw one pregnant woman with blood pouring out of her skull after she was shot in the head," the 45-year-old refugee said. The 28-year-old woman died, and four others were injured, he said. The guards arrested the group, beat them and took their belongings. The former farmer said he spent more than a year in several Egyptian prisons before his release in late August. "Now we are struggling to live in Cairo, and there is no way we can go back to Sudan," he said. The stream of migrants from poor, conflict-ridden African countries coming from Egypt to Israel has increased since 2007, apparently as word spread of job opportunities in Israel and opportunities for resettlement from Egypt to other countries dwindled. Steady work and social services are scarce in Egypt, a country of 76 million where 20 percent live on just $2 a day. "The situation here is so bad. They (refugees) don't have jobs or work in Egyptian homes and are mistreated. They become hopeless. So they try to leave, and Israel is the only place to go," said Mohammed Adam, a Sudanese refugee living in Cairo. Egypt has long been under pressure from Israel to do more to control its nearly 100-mile border. But it appeared to have adopted a "shoot-to-stop" policy after a meeting in June 2007 between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights Watch said. "We are used to hearing about people dying trying to cross the desert from Mexico to the U.S. or at sea trying to get to Spain, but that's not what we are talking about here. People are being killed for migration control and that is unusual and very, very worrisome," said Michael Kagan, a senior fellow in human rights law at the American University in Cairo. Egypt has defended its methods, saying the growing number of illegal border crossings jeopardizes security. An Egyptian security official, on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media, described the situation as a "challenge" but sees "success." Human Rights Watch also criticized Israel for sending back migrants to Egypt. Of the 139 migrants Israel has sent back, at least 20 were then deported to Sudan, while the whereabouts of the rest are unknown, the report said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David said Israel has agreed to grant refuge to 500 asylum seekers from Darfur, but most illegal migrants are not from Darfur. "Israel does not share a border with Sudan, a country which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and maintains a formal state of war with it. Those seeking to enter Israel have already crossed into Egypt, and therefore ... (Egypt) is responsible for their safety," David said.