Home | News    Wednesday 31 October 2007

UN probes deportation by Egypt of Sudanese expelled from Israel

October 30, 2007 (JERUSALEM) — The UN High Commission for Refugees is investigating whether Egypt broke its promise not to deport Sudanese refugees back to their country of origin after they had illegally crossed into Israel, UNHCR’s Cairo spokeswoman told Haaretz.

The investigation, which also involves Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, revolves around 48 Sudanese refugees whom Israel deported to Egypt two months ago.

The spokeswoman, Abir Atfah, said her organization asked the Egyptian authorities to allow the UNHCR to meet the refugees, who were deported back to Egypt on August 19, but this effort failed. Atfah believes the 48 refugees were arrested as soon as they entered Egypt.

"Some of the refugees deserve recognition as asylum seekers. We are very troubled by the possibility that they were deported back to Sudan," Atfah said. She added that 23 of the refugees had asked to be recognized as asylum seekers.

If the refugees were deported, the affair could have ramifications regarding Israel’s relationship with Egypt. After Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in August, he said Mubarak agreed to receive the refugees that cross over to Israel and not deport them to Sudan.

Some of the refugees flee to Egypt and from there to Israel to escape massacres by government-funded Sudanese militias in the Western region of Darfur. Returning asylum seekers to their countries of origin is against international law.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem is trying through the embassy in Cairo to gain information about the group of refugees, a ministry official told Haaretz. Ministry officials said they have so far been unsuccessful.

One Sudanese refugee who is in Israel said a relative of his who had been deported to Egypt told him over the phone she was detained in Egypt for three weeks until she was flown to Sudan. She was questioned by the Sudanese authorities and then released, he said.

"This case proves that Olmert and Mubarak’s casual handshake does not give proper protection to the refugees," said a spokesperson for Hotline for Migrant Workers, a non-profit organization. "Unless Israel reaches a real agreement with Egypt, deporting them there is just like sending them back to Sudan," the spokesperson said.