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Crossing into Israel, African migrants dodge Egyptian bullets, Israeli jail threat

Egyptian border guards have shot and killed at least 15 migrants since May, prompting an outcry from human rights watchers. African immigrants increasingly use a path into Israel that goes through Egypt.

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Dropped roughly half a mile from the border, the smugglers tell them to run without slowing. If spotted, they come under fire from border guards.

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Amank was spotted. But when the guards shot at him, they didn't aim to kill. Instead, he, his wife, and their two young children cowered on the ground as guards shot circles around their bodies. Charged with "infiltration," he spent the next 15 months in Egyptian prisons. He says he has no idea what happened to his wife and children.

Earlier this summer, the combination of a crackdown on the route through Libya and an increase of Eritrean migration put renewed strains on the Israeli border as desperate Africans sought to cross.

Mr. Kagan, who has done previous work on the protection of refugees in Egypt, says that pressure from either side to stem the inflow of refugees creates an environment "where essentially if they want to deter migrants from coming, they have an incentive to be as harsh as possible."

The harsh measures, reinforced in 2009, were initially adopted in June 2007 after a meeting between Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Israel's then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Sharm el-Sheikh. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, in July 2007, Olmert announced the two countries had reached an "understanding" to handle the increasing numbers of "infiltrators" trying to cross into Israel. For their part, the Israelis instituted a policy of "coordinated returns," in which migrants caught within 72 hours of arriving in their country can be rounded up and pushed back over the border to Egypt. For theirs, the Egyptian border patrol began a shoot-on-sight policy. Both countries claim national security concerns as the basis behind their policies.

Migrant who was shot at would try again

Both Israel and Egypt will put African migrants they catch in their territories in prison, but Israel also returns some to Egypt.

Despite the danger, Amank says he would try the crossing again in a heartbeat, "because living here is like living in hell." Refugees are not legally allowed employment in Egypt.

"When someone goes there and finds a better life, of course they will call their friends and tell them you have to leave that hell and come here," he says.


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