Stop the Killing of Migrants on the Egypt-Israel Border

Since July 2007, some 60 fatal shootings of unarmed migrants have occurred on the Egypt-Israel border.

While migrants often lose their lives accidentally when traveling in over-crowded boats, or trying to cross remote land borders, I know of no other country where so many unarmed migrants and asylum seekers appear to have been deliberately killed in this way by government forces.

The Egyptian government must immediately order its security forces to stop using lethal force against unarmed migrants trying to enter Israel via the Sinai Desert. There must be an urgent independent inquiry into the killing of so many individuals by State security forces, and the wounding and disappearance of dozens more, on the Egyptian side of the Sinai border with Israel, since July 2007.

It is a deplorable state of affairs, and the sheer number of victims suggests that at least some Egyptian security officials have been operating a shoot-to-kill policy. It is unlikely that so many killings would occur otherwise. Sixty killings can hardly be an accident.

The latest victim was killed at the weekend -- the ninth reported fatal shooting of a foreign migrant in the Sinai during the first two months of 2010. The great majority of the people killed since Egypt and Israel agreed to toughen border controls in Sinai in the summer of 2007 are reported to have been from Sub-Saharan Africa -- in particular from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia.

At least 33 were reported killed in the Sinai between July 2007 and October 2008. After a six-month period when there were no reported shootings, at least 19 more would-be migrants or refugees are believed to have been shot dead between May and December 2009.

The victims are said to include several women and at least one child.

The fact that these shootings stopped for six months, and then resumed, strongly suggests that the killings follow a pattern that does not appear to be random.

Security forces are only permitted to use lethal force when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

The fact that this is a very sensitive border, and a restricted military zone, is no excuse.