We send refugees back to hell, say IDF troops

By Ben Lynfield, September 12, 2008

Israeli soldiers have voiced disquiet over new orders to forcibly return African refugees to Egypt - where they face deportation back to Sudan, Eritrea or the other regimes they fled.

In Sudan, refugees who have been in Israel, an enemy state, face possible imprisonment or execution. In Eritrea, they face detention in a military prison and are likely to be tortured.

An IDF sergeant (res), who asked not to be identified, told the JC that on August 23 his unit handed 17 Africans to the Egyptian army minutes after they crossed the border - including one shot in the leg by an Egyptian soldier.

The IDF troops were ordered to handcuff and blindfold the refugees. "We gave them over to the Egyptians just 20 minutes after they had been shot at by the Egyptian army," he said. "The next day there were another seven refugees from the same group. We just gave them back to the Egyptians without asking them any questions, without asking if they were in danger.

"It was morally wrong. This country was founded by refugees. When you see people who have just been shot at and are begging for your help, your basic instinct is to help. You don't know if you are sentencing them to hell or to death by giving them back. It doesn't feel right. I'm questioning my willingness to do these things."

Another soldier stationed along the Egyptian border, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: "I think it's awful. We don't know what goes on on the Egyptian side. In Egypt I don't think they will live." Others in his unit were also concerned, he said.

Israeli state attorneys said that 91 people were returned by the army to Egypt between August 23-29.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor conceded that the asylum seekers were not questioned properly, adding: "The government admits things were handled in the wrong way and conclusions will be given to the soldiers so that it won't happen again."

The Supreme Court will resume deliberations next month on a petition seeking to ban the deportations.

Last updated: 5:01pm, September 15 2008