Israel has revived the practice of rapidly returning refugees crossing into its territory from Egypt for the first time since a group of 48 Africans went missing after being forcibly returned to Sinai last year by the IDF.
The IDF confirmed on Wednesday that fresh expulsions had been carried out but could not immediately say how many people were returned or what their nationalities were. The expulsions became public only after soldiers serving along the Egyptian border alerted refugee-rights activists of new orders to return refugees to Egypt.
The IDF spokesman said that "illegal infiltrators have been returned immediately in recent days to the Egyptians as directed by the political echelon and in accordance with bilateral agreements between Israel and Egypt".
Anat Ben-Dor, head of the legal clinic for refugees at Tel Aviv University, urgently petitioned Israel's Supreme Court on Wednesday evening for an injunction banning the further return of refugees to Egypt, after state attorneys offered no immediate response to requests for more information. The petition noted that the 48 refugees returned to Egypt on August 19 2007 had been arrested immediately upon their arrival and placed incommunicado in detention. Some were later forcibly returned by Egypt to Sudan, where the punishment for visiting Israel, an enemy state, is death or life imprisonment, according to the Darfur Centre for Human Rights.
The US-based Human Rights Watch group said last week on the occasion of the first anniversary of the disappearance that the whereabouts and fate of the 48 remain unknown. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had said he had assurances from Egypt regarding the safety of any deported persons, but the Egyptian foreign ministry denied there was such an agreement with Israel.
"It seems that the lesson of the previous return has not been learned," Ms Ben-Dor's petition said.