HRW: Israel shunned dozens of African asylum seekers since June

Israel has shunned tens of African asylum seekers, mostly Eritreans, since June, denying them entry through the borders with Egypt, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other NGOs.

In that period, Israeli security patrol operating along the border security fence have pushed back African migrants on at least six occasions, according to a statement released on Sunday by HRW, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

“In forcing asylum seekers and refugees to remain in Egypt and in deporting others, Israel is putting them at risk of prolonged detention in Egyptian prisons and police stations, where they cannot claim asylum; of forcible return to Eritrea; and of serious abuse by traffickers in the Sinai region,” the report said.

The three organizations urged Israel to change its policy in that respect, noting that Israel had signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees and is bound by international human rights laws.

"Not only are there credible reports that Israeli soldiers are blocking asylum seekers at the border, but also that they are using violence to do so,” the report quoted Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch, as saying.

Data from the Israeli interior ministry indicates that 62,000 illegal migrants have entered Israel since 2006, mostly of Sudanese, South Sudanese and Eritrean nationalities. In May, thousands of Israelis staged violent, anti-migrant protests where stores owned by migrant Africans were assaulted.

Israel continues to build a 250-km fence along its borders with Egypt to stem the immigration flow. Work on the barrier is expected to finish by the end of 2012.

HRW said building the fence does not give Israel the right to block refugees.

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