The UN's refugee agency has confirmed that 91 African refugees expelled by Israel to Egypt as part of its controversial "hot return" policy have gone missing.
A spokeswoman in Cairo for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees said that Egypt had not responded to requests for information about the 91, who were returned shortly after crossing illegally from Sinai into Israel.
"We don't have access to this group, we do not know where they are," she said.
According to an IDF reserve soldier who participated in a hot return in August, refugees were blindfolded and forced back to Egypt only 20 minutes after being shot at by Egyptian police.
Israel revived the policy in August for the first time since 48 refugees, mostly Sudanese, disappeared after being returned a year earlier. At least five are known to have been sent back to Sudan, despite what the government said were assurances from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that this would not happen. The punishment for visiting Israel is protracted imprisonment or death, according to Sudanese law.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said that there was an "understanding" with Egypt that those returned should be well treated, but added: "It is not Israel's responsibility to not deport someone back to Egypt because of the chance he will be treated differently. Most of those trying to cross are not from Darfur and are not refugees.
"They are deported back to where they have come from and this is what every country does."
Anat Ben-Dor, head of the refugee legal clinic at Tel Aviv University, said in response to the disappearance of the 91: "We have been very disappointed with the state's position that unless UNHCR says otherwise, Egypt is a safe country. We would expect the state to halt the returns in light of this."