Israel has turned away dozens of African asylum-seekers, mostly Eritreans trying enter the country from Egypt, human rights groups have said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and two Israeli NGOs said that "since June, Israeli forces patrolling Israel's newly constructed border fence with Egypt's Sinai region have denied entry to dozens of Africans, mostly Eritreans".
The numbers of rejected asylum seekers from Africa has increased at the Egypt-Israel Sinai border since Israel started the construction of a 250km fence running the length of its border with Egypt. The fence is due for completion by year-end.
A report written by HRW, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights published on Sunday said Israeli soldiers allegedly denied food and water to migrants, beat them with fists and guns and pushed them across the Israel-Egypt border with long metal poles.
The report was published just as Interior Minister Eli Yishai wrote a letter calling on Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and the justice ministry to allow for the resumption of arrests of African migrants in Israel.
Yishai, who only mentioned Sudanese migrants in the letter and not Eritreans, who make up the majority of the migrants in Israel, said, “as you know, the problem of infiltration to Israel is one of the most difficult and complicated problems which Israel has dealt with since the founding of the state, a problem which threatens our identity, character, and future".
It is estimated that more than 60,000 Africans are living in Israel illegally, most of them in run-down neighbourhoods of southern Tel Aviv.
Most are Sudanese and Eritreans who entered from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
Rising tensions over the growing number of illegal immigrants exploded in May when a protest in south Tel Aviv turned ugly, with demonstrators smashing African-run shops and property, chanting "Blacks out!"
According to the rights groups' report, the current Israeli policy "is forcing asylum seekers and refugees to remain in Egypt and in deporting others, Israel is putting them at risk of prolonged detention in Egyptian prisons and police stations where they cannot claim asylum."
They also face "forcible return to Eritrea, and serious abuse by traffickers in the Sinai region."