JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel said it will allow two female African migrants — one who is pregnant — and a teen to enter the country, and turn over more than a dozen other refugees who have been trapped at its border to Egyptian authorities.
Thursday’s decision by the Israel government came hours after the Israeli Supreme Court decided to hold another hearing on the migrants’ situation on Sunday. The hearings are in response to a petition filed by We are Refugees, an Israeli NGO, that calls on Israel to provide food, water and medical care to the refugees.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office called the decision a humanitarian solution to the problem of the 20 African migrants who have been trapped for a week between Israel’s border fence with Egypt, The Jersusalem Post reported.
Later Thursday, an Israeli official told the French news agency AFP that the agreement was reached between military commanders from both Israel and Egypt, along with the migrants, who had refused to be sent back to Egypt.
Israeli soldiers have been ordered not to let in the refugees but reportedly have provided them with water.
"It is important that everyone understand that Israel is no longer a destination for infiltrators," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Thursday evening after the agreement was announced. "We are determined to stop the flood of infiltrators that has been here. We built this fence and it has already lowered the number of infiltrators by 90 percent. We will intensify steps against those who employ illegal infiltrators, and we will continue the effort to return infiltrators to their countries of origin."
Also Thursday, Israeli police and troops blocked a delegation from the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights from visiting the trapped migrants.
The Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday evening released a statement saying that Israel is not obligated under international law to allow the migrants to enter, since they do not face persecution in Egypt. Also Wednesday, the envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, William Tall, called on Israel to allow the refugees to enter Israel and apply for asylum.
Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants.