Sudan + 1 more

Egypt: End 'shoot to stop' practice at Sinai border crossings

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(Cairo, November 12, 2008) - Since June 2007, Egyptian border guards have killed at least 32 African migrants trying to cross into Israel, and Israel has forcibly returned at least 139 border crossers to Egypt, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Egypt has detained those returned, not revealed their whereabouts, and reportedly deported some to their home countries where they face a substantial risk of persecution. In the 90-page report, "Sinai Perils: Risks to Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Egypt and Israel," Human Rights Watch called on Egypt to halt the use of lethal force against border crossers and all deportations of persons to countries where they risk persecution or ill-treatment. Israel should halt forced returns of migrants to Egypt, where they face military court trials and possible unlawful deportation to their countries of origin. Both countries should respect the rights of persons seeking asylum.

"Egypt should stop shooting migrants who pose no threat and deporting others to possible torture," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Israel should not be forcibly returning people to Egypt, where they are detained arbitrarily and even deported to abusive home countries."

"Sinai Perils" documents numerous cases in which Egyptian border guards shot unarmed migrants, including children, as they tried to cross the Sinai border into Israel. The report says that, in Egypt, authorities separate migrant families and incarcerate them, including children, in poor conditions. Egypt puts migrants on trial before military courts, and denies the UN refugee agency access to some of them. Israel also separates families and detains migrants in conditions that are inadequate. Human Rights Watch found that both Egypt and Israel have failed to respect basic asylum procedures.

Since 2006, more than 13,000 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, primarily from Eritrea and Sudan, have traveled through Egypt and crossed the Sinai border into Israel. Israel forcibly returned 139 of them to Egypt, some in August 2007 and others in August 2008. Israel said Egypt had agreed to the returns and gave assurances that the returnees would not be mistreated, but prior to the first returns Egypt publicly denied that there was any such understanding.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 69 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Egypt and Israel for the report, as well as government officials and refugee rights organizations in both countries.

In addition to the arbitrary killings on the Sinai border, Egyptian security forces have arrested hundreds of migrants, including children, and held them in harsh conditions. Guidelines by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) state that asylum seekers should be detained only as a last resort. Egypt also denied UNHCR access to all of those returned by Israel, as well as to as many as 1,200 undocumented Eritreans who crossed into Egypt over its southern border with Sudan.

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