Israel to Admit 3 of 21 Africans Waiting in Desert
For days, their blurred images had appeared on Israeli television screens and in the newspapers, a group of 21 African migrants crouching on the desert floor behind the new steel fence that Israel has built along its border with Egypt.
Little was known about the group, though it included two women and a teenage boy. The migrants said they were Eritreans and they were seeking entry into Israel. The government vowed not to allow them automatic entry, in line with its new, tough policy of stemming the influx of African immigrants and asylum seekers. The army sealed off the area and said it had provided the migrants with food and water, but many here feared that they might die under the harsh and unrelenting sun.
Ultimately, the haunting scenes from across the fence proved too much.
On Thursday, about a week after the group’s arrival at the border, the government announced a compromise. The women and the teenager were allowed into Israel; the 18 men were sent back into the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.
“It is important that everyone understand that Israel is no longer a destination for infiltrators,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, using the term commonly used in Hebrew for all manner of migrants who slip into Israel from Egypt.
The episode has posed a new challenge to Israel’s campaign to control its borders, and has reignited an impassioned debate here about the obligation of the state to those seeking refuge.