IDF guarding African migrants hiding in underground viaduct on Israel-Egypt border

Migrant Workers’ Hotline writes to IDF legal adviser, allow asylum-seekers into Israel.

By Talila Nesher


A group of African migrants that attempted to enter Israel through Sinai is currently located in a viaduct in Israeli territory, close to the Israel-Egypt border, and under guard of Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

The group descended into the viaduct three days ago, while attempting to cross the border through the water passageway, which is open on the Egyptian side of the border. The group was stopped by IDF forces on the Israeli side of the border near the Carmit post. Soldiers from the post, responsible for patrolling the border, have given the migrants food and water.

The fence along Israel's border with Egypt.

The fence along Israel’s border with Egypt. – Photo: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The NGO Physicians for Human Rights learned of the situation on Thursday.

Attorney Anat Ben David of the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic claims to have spoken with the IDF Southern Command legal adviser, Maj. Sagiv Lichtman, who confirmed the situation.

“During the talk, it was not made clear if the individuals are being held in Israeli territory or Egyptian territory,” stated Ben David.

“It was explained that IDF soldiers are present to prevent them from entering Israel and that they have no control over, or access to the individuals located in the tunnel,” she continued.

Ben David, along with attorney Assaf Vitzan from the organization Hotline for Migrant Workers sent Thursday night an urgent letter to the legal adviser, that read:

“In continuation of our phone conversation, and after receiving information that currently (Thursday evening) the individuals are still located in the viaduct, and this is at least the day… we request that allowing these individuals into Israel be considered purely for humanitarian reasons: individuals living in a viaduct for numerous days is intolerable. The area in question is in the desert, and it is very hot, as you know. Even if the viaduct provides shade and the IDF soldiers are proving water as you stated on the phone, the current situation could severely damage the individual’s health and wellbeing. These exceptional circumstances raise a heavy humanitarian consideration for allowing these individuals into the country, and thoroughly investigating their reasons for coming to the border..

If in fact the group is located in Israeli territory, “they cannot be returned either actively, or by placing guards around them until their return of their own volition (following state commitments resulting from High Court file 7302/07, among others). Even if the individuals are located in Egyptian territory, international law does not allow turning away individuals that could be seeking asylum if doing so could expose them to the danger of being returned to their country of origin…

“If after checks are conducted by the appropriate entities and it is revealed that the individuals in question are not asylum-seekers, and there is no reason justifying their entry into Israel, they can be turned away legally.

We are certain that with simple logistical considerations, the IDF soldiers stationed at the scene can extract the individuals from the viaduct. In light of all that was written, we again request that they be allowed entry into Israel to undergo medical checks, and so their reasons for reaching the border can be ascertained.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s unit responded “Construction of a fence meant to prevent illegal infiltration into Israel has been completed in the sector in which the foreigners are located. Movement of foreigners within Sinai is not restricted by Israeli forces. The IDF is operating in conjunction with Egyptian forces, in order to extract the foreigners from the viaduct.


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