Israel should stop summarily expelling Sudanese nationals who enter the country illegally from Egypt and reinstate its policy of allowing them to remain in Israel pending refugee status determination, Human Rights Watch said today. Egypt’s official refusal to accept them combined with recent allegations of mistreatment by border guards suggests that Sudanese returnees are likely to be treated harshly and with no guarantees that they would not be returned to persecution.

On August 18, Israel expelled approximately 50 Sudanese nationals who had crossed the border from Egypt the previous day. Most appear to have originated from war-torn Darfur, and are likely to have been seeking asylum. The summary expulsion marks a departure from Israeli policy, which had been to allow Sudanese migrants to remain temporarily in Israel pending refugee status determinations from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and possible third-country resettlement.

“Israel puts these people at grave risk by expelling them with no proper procedure and no indication of Egypt’s willingness to accept them,” said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch.

A week earlier, on August 11, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying, “Egypt did not agree to re-admit the persons who previously trespassed to Israel through the Egyptian borders, affirming that Egypt officially conveyed to Israel that it is not obligated to receive any non-Egyptian citizen who has illegally trespassed to Israel.”

The Egyptian statement came after reports surfaced that Egyptian border guards had killed three Sudanese men as they attempted to cross into Israel on August 1. Israeli soldiers at the border reportedly witnessed the Egyptian border guards beating to death one of two men whom border guards had already shot, as well as a third migrant. (Please see: https://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/08/08/egypt16606.htm)

An Israeli government spokesman, David Baker, stated on August 19, “The policy of returning back anyone who enters illegally will pertain to everyone, including those from Darfur.”

“It is astounding that the Israeli government would hand over Sudanese nationals, even from Darfur, to Egyptian border guards after Israeli soldiers said they witnessed these guards shooting and beating Sudanese migrants to death,” said Frelick.

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Israel is a party, forbids the expulsion or return of any person to a place where his or her life or freedom would be threatened. The obligation not only adheres to the return of refugees directly to persecution, but also to their return to a place from which they would be at risk of return to persecution. The convention also says that refugees should not be punished for their illegal entry or presence into another country.

“In light of Egypt’s refusal to re-admit Sudanese from Israel and the reported killings on August 1, Israel’s return of Sudanese migrants without adequate screening for possible protection claims appears to be in violation of its legal obligations under the convention,” Frelick said.