Passenger says Israel deporting migrants to Egypt on commercial flights

Eyewitness says handcuffed African man pleaded for help on plane; Immigration Authority says it is unfamiliar with the case

Bound civilians are placed on flights only in extreme cases, when they become violent and pose a threat to themselves or others, an official with the Population and Immigration Authority says (Illustrative. Roy Alima/Flash90)
Bound civilians are placed on flights only in extreme cases, when they become violent and pose a threat to themselves or others, an official with the Population and Immigration Authority says (Illustrative. Roy Alima/Flash90)

Israel is flying West African nationals to Egypt, from where they are being sent to remote areas, an Israeli passenger who claims to have witnessed such an incident told Zman Yisrael, the Hebrew sister site of The Times of Israel.

“On Wednesday, July 17, I was on a regular flight from Israel to Egypt,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “One of the other passengers was an illegal migrant, an African civilian, who was bound hands and feet and was under guard.”

The man flew on Air Sinai, a subsidiary of Egypt Air. The airline did not acknowledge numerous requests this week for a response from Zman Yisrael.

“He kept yelling that he was a refugee from the Ivory Coast and that he was being deported, and he pleaded for help. This was a very pitiful sight and some of the passengers, most of whom were Arab Israeli tourists, became quite anxious,” the passenger said.

“I asked the flight crew what was going on and they told me it was a routine procedure by which Israel uses their airline to fly illegal migrants from Israel to Egypt. They told me that they [the migrants] were deported to two areas in Egypt — either the western desert, close to Libya, or the south, close to the Sudanese border. They [Israeli authorities] let them choose between them,” he said.

Zman Yisrael said it has found that there are cases in which illegal migrants who lack valid identification papers or citizenship status are deported from Israel to several destinations, including Egypt.

Amnesty International’s office in Israel expressed concern over the case but said it was unfamiliar with its details.

Chen Brill-Egri, a campaigner with the human rights group, told Zman Yisrael that “there can be no reason or justification for deporting a person to a third country that is not their own, and certainly not to a remote part of Egypt.”

The latter, she said, “is a dangerous country for migrants and asylum seekers, as it imprisons and tortures them, and deports them to even more dangerous countries.”

The western desert in Egypt (Egypt Army spokesman via AP)

Brill-Egri said that in cases in which an individual has no identification papers and is suspected of being an illegal migrant despite claims of being an asylum seeker, the state must review his refugee status.

“First of all, if a man claims to be a refugee, he is an asylum seeker and the government has to have a professional system review his case and determine whether he is eligible for asylum, certainly if he has no identification papers. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Israel helped draft and to which it is a signatory, states as much,” Brill-Egri said.

“Our experience shows that Israel does not have such a system in place and that only a minuscule fraction of asylum petitions are reviewed,” she said, noting that the Ivory Coast “is a very dangerous country that is plagued by internal armed conflicts. Many refugees flee from it, some to Israel.”

Brill-Egri further said that if the man was not a refugee and was therefore not eligible for asylum, “Why not deport him back to his own country? There’s still no reason to forcibly deport an individual to a third country. It’s illegal. Certainly with respect to a country like Egypt.”

She said it didn’t make sense to warn that Israel would have to take in anyone who came here without identification papers, saying, “Refugees have the right to seek and receive asylum in any other country, so we’ll have to review every case. A scenario in which a million people come here is an imaginary one. But the ones who do come here — their cases are not reviewed. And in this case, a man is sent to a third country, a place where many people face mortal danger, without any justification.”

The Population and Immigration Authority said in response: “We are unfamiliar with the allegations in question and without further details, we are unable to provide an answer.”

“Israel is working to expel illegal migrants to their countries of origin, and to other countries. The only reason for an individual to be expelled to Egypt is if he is an Egyptian citizen or has a connection flight to his homeland from Egypt. We seek to clarify that the State of Israel does not deport refugees (who have been recognized as refugees) or anyone whose asylum petition is still under review,” it said.

An official with the Population and Immigration Authority told Zman Yisrael that bound civilians are placed on flights only in extreme cases when they resist boarding the aircraft violently and harm or attempt to harm the flight crew, police officers, airport personnel or themselves.

This article first appeared in Hebrew on The Times of Israel’s sister site, Zman Yisrael.

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