crossing into israel

November 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

Cairo, Egypt – When Amank decided to attempt to cross the Egyptian border into Israel, he wasn’t thinking about the likelihood that Egyptian guards would shoot at him. He knew the danger existed, but his main focus was escaping dire economic prospects and rampant discrimination as an off-the-books housecleaner in Cairo.

“I was thinking [about life] after this danger,” explains the Sudanese refugee in the office of refugee legal aid group, AMERA. Dressed in a neatly pressed shirt, the slight man with expressive eyes did not want to use his real name for safety reasons. “If I cross, my life will be better.”

Many asylum-seekers are making the same cost-benefit calculations with deadly results. After a six-month respite in fatalities, at least 15 Africans have been shot and killed trying to cross the 160-mile border since May. Hundreds of others are in detention, in what analysts believe is the result of a migration spike from Eritrea and a clampdown on an alternative route into Europe.

The Egyptian government has defended its policy of firing on border-crossers as a matter of national security. It says it warns people before opening fire. A week after the September statement, prompted by the outcry of human rights organizations, another Eritrean was killed.

Legally, “to use live ammunition to shoot people simply because they are leaving has no justification at all,” says Michael Kagan, senior international human rights law fellow at the American University in Cairo. He notes that a lack of reported killings since the September statement does not signal a shift in Egyptian policy. “What’s most remarkable is that the Egyptians really don’t think that they’re doing anything wrong,” he says.

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Both Israel and Egypt will put African migrants they catch in their territories in prison, but Israel also returns some to Egypt.

Despite the danger, Amank says he would try the crossing again in a heartbeat, “because living here is like living in hell.” Refugees are not legally allowed employment in Egypt.

“When someone goes there and finds a better life, of course they will call their friends and tell them you have to leave that hell and come here,” he says.

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