Israeli clampdown on migrants may put Eritrea refugees at risk

There are concerns that the Israeli government's planned restrictions on migrants may exacerbate the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in the Sinai.

The Illegal Migrants Bill passed in the Knesset last week allows for the arrest and imprisonment of anyone caught crossing into Israel illegally.

Refugees may be detained for up to three years without trial or deported back to their country of origin. Israelis who assist them face between five and 15 years in prison.

According to Italian NGO, Agenzia Habeshia, a group of 20 women, six children and 12 men from Eritrea are being held hostage in the Sinai.

The men are reportedly blindfolded and chained by their hands and feet, while the women are shackled.

There are reports that the women and some of the young boys are being subjected to sexual violence.

In addition, the group is facing starvation and additional torture in the form of electric shocks and burns.

The group is being held by Bedouin human traffickers, who are reportedly demanding $30,000 or the sale of an organ for their release.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide said the majority of those likely to be affected by the new Israeli law are people fleeing brutal regimes in sub-Saharan Africa.

It said the Bill will "effectively criminalise genuine refugees" and curtail the amount of assistance they can receive from humanitarian NGOs.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston called upon Israel to respect its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and reconsider the law.

“CSW appreciates that the flow of people in search of refuge may present challenges," he said.

"However, the Illegal Migrants Bill will criminalise vulnerable and traumatised people, who deserve protection, and is in clear violation of international humanitarian law."

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