Jerusalem–An Israeli journalist arrested by Egyptian police last week while sneaking across the border with African migrants returned home on Monday, saying he had been treated roughly in captivity and that some of his materials had been confiscated.
Journalist Yotam Feldman was detained on March 15 as he tried to cross into Israel with a group of migrants from Sudan, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa that he had been filming a documentary about.
Speaking after his release, Feldman said he was glad to have experienced the dangers that the migrants endure. "Some of the Egyptians said I made a mistake and shouldn’t have done it," Feldman told Israel’s Army Radio station. "But I think I did my job, this is what journalists do."
Thousands of migrants, including many refugees from Darfur, make the perilous journey through Africa to reach Israel each year.
Feldman said his group was beaten by Egyptian soldiers when they were discovered and he was hurt in the arm.
"At first when I was with the refugees, I was treated like the refugees; very violent, very badly," Feldman said. He said he was later taken to Cairo, where the treatment was better.
He said Egyptian authorities confiscated all the filmed material from the documentary, he still has his written notes. He said the lost footage showed the harsh reality of life for African migrants.
He said he doesn’t know what happened to the migrants who were arrested with him.
Feldman, a reporter for the Haaretz daily, was on an assignment for Israel’s Channel 10 TV when he was arrested.
According to UN figures, some 60 migrants have been shot along the border. Egypt defends its use of lethal force, saying it is used as a last resort and necessary to fight criminal activity in the politically sensitive area.
Over the past few years, the number of illegal migrants attempting to cross into Israel has spiked. Most come from Sudan and the horn of Africa, and many attempt to secure political asylum once they arrive. The number of African asylum-seekers in Israel is around 20,000.
The rate increased after the UN refugee agency in Cairo halted third country resettlement in 2005, citing the improved situation in Sudan.
The refugees pose a unique policy problem for the Jewish state, setting off debate over how Israel can fulfill its international obligation to provide sanctuary for refugees without paving the way for further waves of African migrants. Israel’s government has said that most of the migrants are not fleeing war but are rather looking for work.
Israel has taken steps to crack down on illegal entry, announcing a plan to deport all illegal immigrants within the country by 2013. In January, the government also announced plans to build two walls along the border with Egypt, partly to stem the flow of migrants.