Egyptian border guards shot dead at least five Sudanese migrants and injured several others as they attempted to cross into Israel from North Sinai, according to a Ministry of Defense statement released on Monday.
Reports suggest that six people may have died, with up to 17 others injured. Five others were reportedly arrested after the incident.
Associated Press reported that six Sudanese migrants were killed while the wounded were later transferred to a hospital in Rafah. Agence France-Presse also reported six dead.
The Defense Ministry’s statement reported that security forces “succeeded in foiling an attempt to infiltrate the international border in the north-east” of the country.
The shooting reportedly took place around dawn on Monday, although the exact location where it happened is as yet unknown.
The ministry’s statement claimed that Egyptian border guards fired “several” warning shots as smugglers prepared a group of Sudanese migrants to cross the border with Israel.
After the warning shots were fired, the statement continued, the smugglers responded with live fire.
A conscript was wounded during the shoot-out, according to the Defense Ministry statement.
The latest border deaths come just one week after another 15 Sudanese migrants were shot dead in North Sinai, with conflicting reports suggesting that they were either killed by border guards or in a cross-fire between security forces and Bedouin smugglers. The November 15 incident also happened as the migrants attempted to cross the border into Israel.
Egypt has in the past been fiercely criticised for a “shoot-to-stop” policy enforced along the border with Israel, which has cost the lives of dozens of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants hoping to find international protection or job opportunities in Israel.
According to a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch, Egyptian security forces shot at least 33 African migrants on the border between 2007 and 2008.
After 2009, North Sinai would later see hundreds of victims of trafficking, usually from Eritrea, kidnapped and then trafficked towards the border area in order to be tortured for vast amounts of ransom money.
It is thought this trafficking route was significantly hampered by the intensified security presence in North Sinai after 2013, and may have since moved west towards Libya, according to the US State Department’s 2015 report on global trafficking trends.
Although it appears refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from the Horn of Africa are still making the perilous journey towards Israel, the flow of Sudanese and other African migrants dropped significantly after 2011, when Israel fortified its border with Egypt using surveillance cameras, motion detectors and radar.
Egypt has meanwhile attracted criticism from Sudanese officials and newspapers, following growing reports of abuse and mistreatment by Sudanese nationals at the hands of Egyptian security forces.
Last week, the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo sent a letter to Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry decrying security campaigns targeting Sudanese nationals in Egypt, who they say are increasingly subjected to searches and detention. The embassy accused Egyptian security forces of mistreating its nationals, and noted that the ministry had not responded to an earlier letter on the matter sent at the beginning of the month.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid told a Sudanese newspaper on Monday that officials are looking into the embassy’s complaint, but he denied that Sudanese nationals in Egypt were being systematically targeted.
Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party has issued statements over the past couple days calling on Egyptian authorities to investigate the growing number of incidents and to immediately end such violations.