A group of Eritrean refugees has become trapped on Israel’s border with Egypt after trying to cross illegally into Israel, behind the new security fence that has finally been constructed along the border’s length. Israel is refusing to allow entry to the refugees, saying that they can return to their country of origin. Human rights activists say they cannot return due to the fear of persecution.
The usual suspects are demanding that Israel admit these refugees forthwith, with no preconditions. The envoy of the UN Human Rights Commission in Israel is urging Israel to admit them. Yes, that Human Rights Commission. The one that can think of nothing positive to say about Israel at all and that never met a terrorist it couldn’t like. As far as the UNHRC is concerned, Israel suddenly gains morality when it can be persuaded to act against its own best interests and admit illegal migrants.
An uproar over Israel’s refusal to allow entry to some 20 Eritreans trapped just beyond the country’s southern border fence has prompted a United Nations envoy to plead the asylum seekers’ case.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Israel, William Tall, expressed concern for the fate of the migrants, and urged the Jewish state to allow them in.
Tall noted that Israel’s commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention obligates the country to allow these migrants in and review their eligibility for refugee status.
The envoy branded any attempt to force asylum seekers to return to Egypt, where they face the risk of being captured by traffickers, as “irresponsible,” stressing that African migrants have been subjected to torture and abuse in the past.
So rather than urging Egypt to clean up its act, and rather than urging Egypt to admit the refugees, it is all Israel’s duty simply because it is a decent moral country.
What was the point of building the security fence if any refugee that manages to reach it is to be allowed freely into Israel? Are other countries so generous with their border control? I think not.
It’s not only the UNHRC that takes this position. A group from Doctors for Human Rights (I think they mean Physicians for Human Rights – which itself does not have an unbiased record on Israel) complained that they were being barred from accessing the refugees.
The doctors wanted to offer medical assistance to the asylum seekers, but were forbidden to approach them by the army. The group, which has been stuck between two fences at the border for a week, is made up of 21 people, among them a 14-year-old boy and a woman who suffered a miscarriage.
“There are people in trouble. It is inconceivable that we can’t offer them aid,” said Dr. Kobi Arad.
The High Court of Justice was scheduled to hear a petition Thursday to compel the defense and interior ministers to grant the migrants permission to enter the country.
The Israeli advocacy group “We Are Refugees” also asked the Court to order authorities to provide food, water and medical care to the individuals.
That’s nice. First smear Israel. Then check the facts. See highlighted part below.
The petitioners claim that the Eritrean migrants face imminent danger in their country of origin, and that the state cannot abandon them.
The State Attorney’s Office asked the court to reject the petition, claiming that the state had a right to determine who is allowed to enter its borders. The statement said that the army was instructed to give the migrants basic sustenance and, if necessary, also medical attention.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Wednesday that the group would not be allowed into Israel.
The group made it past the first of two security fences, but were stopped before crossing into Israel. Too scared to backtrack through Sinai, the Eritreans have been sitting in the sun without food or water save for a few beverages they have been given by Israeli soldiers.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ruled Wednesday that Israel “has no legal obligation” to let the group of migrants enter beyond the fence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “According to international practice and precedence, the fence is the actual border, so whoever has not crossed it is not [located] in Israeli territory, and does not have an automatic right to enter.”
The statement further added that there is no international confirmation that the migrants are persecuted or facing grave danger in Egypt, and that Israel is therefore not obliged to let them through.
Human rights groups claimed Tuesday that the territory the migrants are in is technically Israel. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel stated: “Israel has every right to build a border fence, but this fence does not exempt it from its duties.”
Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-On, on her Facebook page, criticized Yishai’s “brutal, xenophobic” decision not to allow the migrants into the country. She said the minister’s move was “not only immoral but also illegal under international law, which determines that refugees who are persecuted in their country, and who face danger if they return there, can be granted political asylum.”
Gal-On is wrong on every count. It is not a “brutal or xenophobic decision” not to allow the refugees into the country. It is the act of a normal democratic country which is permitted, as is every other country in the world, to decide who is and who isn’t allowed in. Neither is it immoral – since when is it immoral to care more for your own citizens than for another country’s?
As for “illegal under international law”, as AG Weinstein himself points out, it is perfectly within Israel’s rights to reject their entry. International law is a very convenient stick with which to beat Israel whenever it does something that the Left doesn’t like, from building houses for Jewish Israelis on land liberated in 1967, to defending itself from rocket fire, to killing terrorists. International law seems to be applied only to Israel, and never to its adversaries or enemies, or even to miserable refugees, and a law that is unevenly applied is not a just law or a valid one. The phrase has been overused to such an extent that it has lost all meaning and has become an irrelevance to most Israelis.
Back to the ToI article:
Earlier Wednesday, Gal-On had called on Yishai to allow the group to enter Israel and to reassess their status.
Groups of activists traveled to the Israeli-Egyptian border Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to deliver food and water to the group. They claimed they were not allowed to deliver the goods to the Eritreans personally — but were promised by the IDF that soldiers would distribute the items.
“They [the IDF] were determined not to let us pass, and threatened to arrest us — and they meant it. In negotiations with the soldiers, the battalion commander proposed we leave the food behind, and that they would deliver it to the migrants,” one activist told Haaretz.
The High Court in the end only deferred a decision on the awkward situation:
The High Court ruled Thursday that it will hold another hearing into the petition filed by the ‘We are Refugees’ organization on behalf of the Eritreans camped out at the border fence on the Egyptian border.
The judges ruled that the State needed to present an updated position by the next hearing. This means that the group of 20 Eritreans will remain between the two borders until Sunday.
During the High Court hearing, judges asked whether the asylum seekers were on the actual border or within Israeli territory. A representative for the State said that the fence was a few meters within Israeli territory as: “You cannot build a border fence within Egyptian territory.”
The ‘We are Refugees’ activists asked to obligate Defense minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Eli Yishai to allow the Eritreans into Israel and examine their request for international asylum in Israel. The petitioners asked for an urgent hearing and were granted the hearing by Justice Esther Hayut.
Supreme Court President Justice Asher Grunis, Justice Neal Hendel and Justice Hanan Meltzer presided over the hearing. The Gaza Brigade commander was also present.
The State’s response to the petition noted that: “On the humanitarian front, without taking away from the State’s claims with regards to the (petitioner’s) foundationless claims on refugee laws, the military forces are working to provide the group with basic foodstuffs, water and should the need arise (and it is hoped that it will not) essential medical and humanitarian care as needed.”
In response to the petitioner’s claim that Israel is obligated to open its doors to Eritreans based on the argument that Eritrean citizens are not sent back to their country…our stance is that the argument has no legal foundation.”
The State argued that the basic assumption is that “Israel is a sovereign state and as such has the right to decide who is allowed to come through its gates. As such it is allowed to construct a fence separating it from Egypt.”
The State’s representative, Attorney Yochi Gensin argued that Egypt, which is also a signatory of the Refugee Convention, was the country responsible for absorbing the asylum seekers and examining their asylum status.
Attorney Omer Shatz who is representing the petitioners said that the fence was efficient and allowed the State to examine whether asylum seekers are in fact just that or work migrants, but added: “To stick up a fence and say ‘the legal status has changed’ – we don’t accept that. The fence is effective; there is a 90% drop in the number of infiltrators.”
It’s a rotten situation both for the refugees and for Israel, which of course will be damned whatever it does. If it rejects asylum, we will be accused of xenophobia, racism, immorality, and any other modern plague you can think of. And if Israel does admit them, we can expect another flood of refugees who will run up to the border fence and claim persecution in their land of origin and in Egypt. And Israel will be left once more to cope with the untrained, unskilled, often sick, poor and hungry refugees, as if we don’t have enough unemployment, poverty and disease in our society already. And in any event we’ll be accused of xenophobia, racism, immorality, and any other modern plague you can think of for not treating the refugees right, for not giving them perfect housing, employment opportunities, free medical treatment, food and education for their children.
Israel is not a refuge for every African migrant, however sorry we feel for them. A solution to their misery must be found outside Israel’s borders. I expect the Arab countries with their multi-billions of petro-dollars, and the African countries with their blood-diamond billionaires, to come to the aid of their brethren instead of dumping their poor on our doorstep.
Meanwhile I’m still waiting for the UNHRC and Physicians for Human Rights, not to mention all the other do-gooders, to urge Egypt to fulfill its duty towards human rights and dignity for all.