CAIRO // Human Rights Watch urged Egypt on Friday to stop shooting foreign migrants who try to cross into Israel, as the African country began chairing the United Nations' refugee agency.
The New York-based rights group said Egyptian border police have killed at least 85 unarmed migrants trying to cross into Israel since July 2007. "Egypt today becomes chair of the UNHCR's governing body, while back home it shoots unarmed migrants and blocks UNHCR's access to detainees seeking the agency's protection," it quoted deputy Middle East director Joe Stork as saying.
"To be consistent with its position as the executive committee's new chair, Egypt needs to put its own house in order." The group said most of the migrants killed were Sudanese or Eritrean. "It is likely that at least some had a reasonable case for asylum," it said. Egypt has defended its policy and says border guards first fire warning shots in the air.
The border between Israel and Egypt, which runs along the desert of the Sinai peninsula, is also used by drug traffickers.
A Cairo-based representative of HRW told AFP more migrants were killed trying to leave Egypt than any other country. "This is the worst border in the world now in terms of the number of lethal shootings of unarmed migrants," said Heba Morayef.
"It is the only border where this many migrants are shot on the way out." Israel, which is constructing a fence along the border to stop the migrants, has asked Egypt to do more to stem the influx. The migrants complain of discrimination and poverty in Egypt.
The group accused Egypt of impeding the UNHCR's access to imprisoned asylum seekers and "unlawfully" deporting recognised refugees.
"Egypt should also stop impeding the refugee agency's access to foreign nationals detained in Egypt who want to claim asylum," it said.
"If Egypt as the chair of UNHCR's executive committee continues to shoot at foreign nationals trying to leave and prevents the refugee agency from fulfilling its protection mandate, it will discredit not only itself but also UNHCR," Stork said.
* Agence France-Presse