- International human rights body has condemned the Egyptian government for forcibly deporting Eritrean asylum seekers who were arrested over the past two months trying to cross into Israel.
Human Rights Watch said Egypt should halt deportations of asylum seekers to their home country, where they face detention and the risk of torture. Egypt has deported 32 Eritreans on Wednesday, who were reported to have been flown back to Asmara, the Eritrean capital.
The rights organisation said Egypt has forcibly returned home more than 45 Eritrean migrants on several flights in the past two weeks without first providing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the required opportunity to interview them.
Deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, Joe Stork, said Eritreans who have been deported back to their country are victims of the repressive government with a terrible human rights record.
According HRW, since mid-December, the Egyptian authorities have detained dozens of Eritreans in the Nakhil detention center in North Sinai and in police stations in the nearby city of al-Arish.
The organisation has previously condemned the Egyptian forces shooting of African migrants attempting to cross into Israel through the Sinai Peninsula, a route that has seen heavy traffic of African migrants hoping to go to Europe.
Thousands of Africans sneak into Egypt every year seeking employment or passage to Israel in search of better life. But many are faced with torture in detention centers if arrested before crossing over to Israel.
Israel has returned at least 139 Africans, mostly Sudanese, to Egypt in 2007 and 2008; Egypt has reportedly deported some of them, and the whereabouts and condition of the remainder are unknown.
In August 2008, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers returned 91 African migrants who had crossed the border from Egypt.
Increasing numbers of Eritreans are fleeing the indefinite national military service imposed by the Eritrean government and the pervasive arbitrary detention and torture. Eritrea routinely imprisons individuals caught trying to flee the country and issues "shoot to kill" orders for anyone found crossing the border without permission, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Egyptian officials said the number of migrants from poor, conflict-ridden African countries crossing the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt to Israel has increased significantly since 2007. Since 2006, more than 130,000 refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants have passed though Egypt and crossed the Sinai border into Israel, according to the Egyptian government report.
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