CAIRO: Egypt agreed Saturday to readmit African migrants who allegedly infiltrated the Israeli border through Egypt. Forty-eight migrants were returned in an overnight operation.
The Israeli embassy could not independently confirm the number of returned migrants at press time.
Egypt had stated previously that it was not obligated to accept the migrants, who are mostly Sudanese, and that the increasing flow of thousands of migrants into Israel has been a growing source of tension between the two countries.
Israel estimates that some 2,800 people, including 1,160 Sudanese, have crossed illegally from Egypt in recent years.
A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy would not comment on the reason for the change in policy, saying only that there have been a number of high-level discussions between Israel and Egypt on the matter.
“It is important that the two countries work together on this issue, he said.
Emad Gad, analyst with Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Daily News Egypt that there were two possible reasons for the change in Egypt’s policy towards the migrant and refugee issue.
First, Gad says, “the Egyptian regime is very aware [of] its image in international media.
Earlier this month, Israel accused Egypt of beating and killing two Sudanese men trying to cross into Israel, an incident covered widely by international media.
Secondly, Gad suggests that American pressure had something to do with the change. Egypt is “very sensitive to demands from the American administration, says Gad.
While Gad says the issue is humanitarian, he suggests that Egypt’s acceptance could be a strategic move to gain Israel’s approval in amending the Camp David treaty which limits the number of soldiers stationed along the Israeli border to 750.
Thousands of Africans, mostly Sudanese, are set to return to Egypt. Israel had initially stated Darfur refugees won’t be sent back.
Gad says the Darfur refugees would refuse to return because Egypt would deport them back to Sudan. He adds that Israel wants to use the issue as an “anti-humanitarian issue.
As for the rest who return, Egypt will likely host them in camps for a transitional period until they are either granted asylum status or deported to their home countries.
But yesterday, Israel announced that Darfur refugees won’t be immune from its ban on unauthorized immigrants.
In a previous interview, American University in Cairo professor Michael Kagan told Daily News Egypt that many refugees leave Egypt for Israel because they have “no future in Egypt. “They are very much in limbo, he said, referring to their status in Egypt, which only offers basic protection from deportation and minimum access to health and education.
In Israel however, Kagan says they are considered “enemy nationals, and sometimes even face indefinite detention. Others are taken in by kibbutzim, or communal farms.
While it is estimated that Egypt currently hosts up to 2 million African refugees, Kagan says the number of all non-Palestinian refugees registered with the UNHCR is about 37,000. He says the 2 million figure likely includes many Africans who are not actually refugees. Additional reporting by AP