breaking borders/egyptian police killing african migrants

July 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

CAIRO, July 30 (Reuters) – Egypt has stepped up shootings of African migrants trying to slip across its border into Israel in a sign that shifts in migration elsewhere in Africa may be pushing more migrants to brave the trek to the Jewish state.

Egyptian police have shot dead at least six African migrants at the Egypt-Israel frontier since May, ending a 6-month lull as police responded to what security sources said was an increased flow of human traffic through Egypt.

The renewed violence is a leading indicator of likely shifts in an African migration trail with origins south of Egypt as rising numbers of migrants stream out of Eritrea on the one hand, and an alternate smuggling route to Italy via Libya gets tougher.

It is also a sign of the unexpected potential consequences of policies intended to block illegal migration to Europe, where immigration is a hot political issue especially at a time of global economic crisis.

“The numbers (at the Egypt-Israel border) are increasing. That route is being used again more heavily than before,” said Gasser Abdel Razek, Egypt country director of refugee legal aid group AMERA.

Aid workers describe the migration route through Egypt as a river with two branches starting in the Horn of Africa and catering to economic migrants and refugees, some fleeing Eritrean authoritarianism or ethnic strife in Sudan’s Darfur.

The route splits in Sudan, where would-be migrants typically take a chance on one of two impossible choices — to brave gunfire at the Egyptian border on the way to Israel, or risk drowning on a rickety boat to Europe from Libya.

“I heard it (Libya) is becoming difficult for them … I am hearing there is strong monitoring along this route, on the border between Libya and Sudan,” said Mohamed Dualeh, head of an office of the U.N. refugee agency in Kassala in east Sudan, through which many migrants transit, especially Eritreans.

“If you are a human being, and you cannot go because one route is blocked, you look for another route,” he said.

Added to the mix, UNHCR says the migrant flow out of the Horn of Africa state of Eritrea to Sudan has doubled in the first half of 2009 to 11,000 new arrivals. Eritreans are the largest group of migrants attempting to cross into Israel.

Egypt fears the unfettered flow of migrants at its strategic Sinai border could pose a security threat in an area where it already fears inroads by Islamist militants who sometimes find refuge in remote craggy mountains.

Egypt also faces Israeli pressure to halt the migrant flow.

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