Friday, August 3, 2007

Knesset members oppose deportatiing Darfur refugees to Egypt -

from Haaretz: MKs oppose the deportation of Darfur refugees back to Egypt By Mijal Grinberg

Dozens of legislators from across the political spectrum have urged the government to refrain from deporting to Egypt Sudanese refugees who enter Israel through the Sinai Peninsula.

Channel 10 reported Thursday on Israeli soldiers who said they had witnessed Egyptian security officers executing several refugees.

"The refugees need protection and sanctuary, and the Jewish people's history as well as the values of democracy and humanity pose a moral imperative for us to give them that shelter," the MKs said in a petition.

The document has been signed by 63 MKs including Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, Labor's Amir Peretz, Hadash's Dov Khenin and the National Religious Party's Effi Eitam.

The legislators propose to keep the refugees here until they are transferred to a safe haven abroad. MKs who signed the petition added suggestions such as building a high fence along the Egyptian border and stipulating quotas for the absorption of refugees.

The petition against deporting Sudanese asylum-seekers back to Egypt is the initiative of a group of students from Jerusalem and Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva.

Many of the students first encountered the refugees up close in the capital. The Sudanese refugees were housed there in tents after they had entered Israel through Egypt, after escaping the genocide in the Western Sudan region of Darfur.

In conversations with refugees, the students became convinced that deportation to Egypt was tantamount to a death sentence.

"Our student group was concerned with raising the public's awareness to the refugees' plight," activist Na'ama Katz said. "When they arrived in Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, we got a chance to actually see what shape they were in. We began gathering testimonies and interviewing them. They told us they had been persecuted in Egypt, and we understood what going back there meant for them."

According to Katz, many of the refugees told the students that they had suffered persecution and physical abuse in Egypt. One of them who wished to remain anonymous told Haaretz that at some point during his stay in Egypt, he and his family were afraid to leave home for fear of being beaten.

"After Sudanese refugees took to demonstrating in Egypt in 2005, it was no longer safe for us to go out on the street. We couldn't go to the police because they were part of it. The Egyptian police joined in on harassing us refugees," he said.

According to an inter-ministerial committee on refugees crossing into Israel from Sinai, about 1,400 are currently in Israel. The committee was headed by Interior Minister Roni Bar-On.

In talks last month on the African refugees, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that any refugee caught crossing into Israel from Egypt would be returned to that country through an official crossing. Olmert said the matter had been finalized in discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptian soldiers murder Sudanese refugees near border with Israel

Egyptian soldiers murdered three Sudanese refugees, beating two to death in front of horrified Israel Defense Forces soldiers, Channel 10 television reported Thursday, screening what it said was army surveillance video and interviews with the soldiers.

Egyptian police told The Associated Press that authorities arrested two Sudanese refugees Thursday, seriously injuring one when he scuffled with police. But Egyptian police Captian Mohammed Badr did not report any deaths.

Channel 10 TV said the incident happened late Wednesday night. The refugees are seen running toward the Israeli border in the video. Then, according to one of the soldiers, who was not identified and whose voice was distorted, Egyptian soldiers opened fire, killing one and wounding the other.

The third tried to climb the border fence but was tackled by Egyptian soldiers, the TV report said.

IDF soldiers were sent to the scene to try to help the refugees, and at one point they got into a tug-of-war with the Egyptians, each side holding on to the Sudanese.

"We pulled one way they pulled another, they pointed their guns at us," said one of the soldiers. He said they let go for fear that the Egyptians would fire at them.

Then the IDF soldiers said they watched helplessly as the Egyptians passed the two refugees from one to the other, beating them. "We saw them gang up on them and beat them on the ground until they stopped moving, said one of the men identified as a soldier.

"They killed two men with their own hands and sticks and rocks," he said. "We heard them crying and screeching in pain until they died."

The IDF said it was looking into the incident. There was no confirmation from Egypt of any refugees being killed.

Hundreds of Sudanese refugees, many from the war-wracked Darfur region, have crossed the desert border from Egypt into Israel in recent months.

Last month, Egyptian border guards shot and killed a Sudanese woman and wounded four others. She was the first Sudanese refugee to be killed.

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