Egypt defends its cold blood murder of Ethiopian migrants

By Daniel Williams | Bloomberg

In the face of international human rights criticism of recent killings, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the deaths of Ethiopian and other African migrants trying to cross from the Sinai peninsula into Israel are justified for security reasons.

Four migrants were killed trying to enter Israel July 9, bringing the death toll in the Sinai to 12 since May.

“Dealing with these migrants is for Egyptian national security and the safety of its forces and Egypt’s international commitment to fight smuggling,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement today. “Egyptian guards only fire in the direction of the migrants when they refuse to stop in this sensitive area of the borders.”

On Sept. 10, Human Rights Watch, the New York-based monitoring group, called on Egypt to “bring an immediate end to the unlawful killings of migrants and asylum seekers.”

“Egypt has every right to manage its borders, but using routine lethal force against unarmed migrants — and potential asylum-seekers — would be a serious violation of the right to life,” Joe Stork, deputy HRW Middle East director, said in a statement. “These individuals appeared to pose no threat to the lives of border guards or anyone else. Attempted border crossings are not a capital offense.”

Migrant traffic through Egypt to Israel largely originates in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, all beset by warfare in recent years, said Gasser Abdel Razek, Egypt country director for Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance, a U.K.-based legal aid group. “They are heading to Israel because they think they can get better consideration for political asylum than in Egypt,” he said in an interview in Cairo.

Israel Criticized

Human Rights Watch said that Egyptian security forces killed 33 migrants at the border between July 2007 and October 2008. HRW also criticized Israel, saying it was “forcibly returning to Egypt, in violation of international refugee law, some migrants who do make it across the border.”

Since February 2008, Israel has deported thousands of African migrants to Egypt on grounds they are economic and not political refugees, according to media reports from Israel.

Last month, smugglers ferrying migrants to Israel killed an Egyptian policeman at the border, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said. On Sept. 9, the independent Cairo newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm quoted North Sinai Governor Muhammed Shousha as saying of the refugees, “Firing at them is only normal. When an infiltrator is spotted, he has to be fired at. If the soldier asks the infiltrator to stop, he normally won’t be obeyed. That’s why there has to be the use of force by those responsible.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Cairo at