Middle East

Israel court debates stranded border refugees

African would-be immigrants stand near the border fence between Israel and Egypt near the Israeli village of Be'er Milcha September 6, 2012. (REUTERS/ Nir Elias)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel's High Court was on Thursday mulling an urgent appeal on behalf of 20 Eritrean nationals stranded in no-man's land on the border with Egypt for a week after the Jewish state refused them entry.

The appeal was filed by Israeli NGO We Are Refugees in a petition against Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Eli Yishai for refusing to allow the group of Eritreans, who are seeking political asylum, into the country.

"Twenty African asylum seekers have been trapped between the fences on the Israel-Egypt border since last Thursday," a statement posted on the group's Facebook page said.

Since last Thursday, the Eritreans hoping to apply for political asylum have been stuck in an area between the two fences, which is technically within the sovereign borders of the state of Israel, the NGO said.

The group reportedly includes men, women and a 14-year-old boy.

Media reports quoting soldiers stationed at the site say the Eritreans have not eaten in a week and have been given only a limited supply of water.

"Israel's refusal to provide them with food, medical treatment, and to hear their asylum request is a clear violation of the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, which Jewish organizations helped draft in the aftermath of World War II, and Israel was the fourth country to ratify," the NGO said.

Citing information provided by soldiers, it said the minor was "in serious condition, that a pregnant woman miscarried and that the group has not received food since last Thursday."

Israel on Wednesday denied it had any legal obligation to let them in.

"The attorney general ruled today that there is no legal obligation to take in anyone located beyond the border," said a statement from the interior ministry.

"According to international practices and binding precedents, the fence is a de facto border, and therefore anyone who is beyond it is not located in Israeli territory and is therefore not eligible for automatic entry," a government spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

"There has been no determination by any international body according to which Sudanese or Eritrean citizens are persecuted in Egypt or that their lives are in danger.

"Therefore, there is no legal obligation to allow entry into Israel of those who are near the fence."

Israeli figures indicate there are some 60,000 Africans living illegally in the country, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea.

In recent months, Israel has been waging a major campaign to round up and deport illegal African migrants, sparking an outcry from rights groups.





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