Register Wednesday | June 12 | 2024

No Man's Land

Egypt is shooting them. Israel won’t recognize them. What’s a poor refugee to do?

Cairo, June 2007: late one night, Ghebre piled into a car with four other African migrants. They were headed east across the Sinai Peninsula toward Israel. Ghebre had fled his native Eritrea, by way of Sudan, eighteen months earlier. “The plan was ... if Egypt is okay, we would stay here,” he tells me. “If not, we go to Israel.”

Ghebre was in Cairo for just four days before traffickers convinced him their $700 US fee was worth passage into the Promised Land. The route, over the Suez Canal and across the 266-kilometre frontier with Israel, has become a thoroughfare for African migrants and asylum seekers: an estimated thirteen thousand have entered Israel illegally since 2006.

Checkpoints and security installations pockmark the Sinai, erected after Egypt regained the peninsula from Israel as part of the 1979 peace treaty. That night, Ghebre’s group passed several roadblocks, but as their car approached ...

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