Egyptian security forces continue to use excessive force against migrants attempting to cross into Israel, including killing

three African migrants since 27 March, an international human rights organization said in a critical report yesterday.

“Egyptian guards have made the Sinai border a death zone for migrants trying to flee the country,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), according to the statement from the New York-based rights watchdog.

On 27 March, Egyptian border police shot and killed two Eritrean migrants, aged 31 and 33, as they attempted to enter Israel. Four people were also wounded, one critically. Two days later, a 26-year-old man, also from Eritrea, was shot and killed on the same border and two others were injured.

Egyptian security have killed 12 migrants in the first three months of 2010 and 67 since 2007, according HRW and other sources.

“While the government may have legitimate security concerns in tackling smuggling of goods and human trafficking across its borders, it has failed to justify the killing of these 69 migrants,” the HRW statement said.

Egypt has come under fire from a number of human rights advocates for its policies along the border with Israel.

“While migrants often lose their lives accidentally… I know of no other country where so many unarmed migrants and asylum seekers appear to have been deliberately killed in this way by government forces,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in early March.

Pillay called it a “deplorable state of affairs” and suggested that “Egyptian security officials have been operating a shoot-to-kill policy.”

The London-based human rights organization Amnesty International issued in early February its own statement condemning the killing of migrants.

The Egyptian government has responded to criticism by saying that African migrants present a security threat and by asserting that illegal migration is a “criminal act.” Police are only under orders to shoot migrants if they refuse to stop, the Egyptian government has said.

HRW, however, said in its statement that “such a warning procedure is irrelevant to requirements for the lawful use of lethal force by police in instances other than self defense.” The statement also criticized Egypt’s treatment of refugees in other ways, such as incommunicado detention and deportation to countries where refugees face persecution and torture.

Egypt is a focal point for irregular migration from sub-Saharan Africa–particularly Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Some of the migrants are classified as refugees under international law; others who are not considered legal asylum-seekers still make the journey in hopes of reaching Israel to find better economic opportunities.

Israel plans to install a system of fences and electronic monitoring systems along its 266km border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in an effort to halt the influx of African migrants. Israeli government officials have said that African migrants pose a threat to “the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel.”