Soldiers testify on how IDF sent asylum seekers back to Egypt

Despite High Court rulings and official Defense Ministry procedures, Israeli soldiers sent back over 40 asylum seekers to Egypt in June 2015. The IDF top brass tried to cover up the incident.

Israeli soldiers turned away two groups of Sudanese asylum seekers crossing into the country in June 2015, sending them back to Egypt in breach of Israel’s High Court of Justice, according to a new investigative report by Israel Social TV. New testimonies from the soldiers reveal how the army’s top command and the IDF Spokesperson tried to paper over the incident.

“I was in the operations room when they reported that 27 refugees had crossed the fence,” says D. a former IDF soldier who served in the Caracal Battalion. “They were detained, bound, and sent back… the battalion commander tried to hide this from the company, and the operations room deleted records.” Those records were changed to conform with what the IDF had hoped to present, he adds.

Another soldier who was present told Social TV: “I was in the operations room. They remember this incident but they said that the army erased all the videos connected to the incident, and that we should not talk about it.”

Some of the soldiers wrote down their testimonies in a notebook, which include descriptions of Israeli soldiers hitting asylum seekers with sticks as the latter were trying to climb over the border fence. Later, they were told to tie them up and send them back to Egypt. The soldiers then reported to Egyptian security forces that the asylum seekers had never crossed the border. According to the testimonies, after rumors began spreading among the soldiers, the battalion commander informed his soldiers that the IDF top brass was taking care of the issue.

Despite the army’s attempts to whitewash the incident, even the Defense Ministry itself admitted that it had indeed taken place and that it contradicted its official procedures.

According to international law, it is forbidden to send a person back to a country if his/her life is in danger. In 2011, the state announced that it would cease sending back asylum seekers that had just crossed the border from Egypt. The High Court ruled that should the state seek to return someone, it must do so in accordance with international standards.