Egyptian security officials arrested an Israeli journalist as he tried to sneak across the porous Israeli—Egyptian border with African migrants, his newspaper reported on Monday.
An Egyptian security official said the Israeli had no identification papers or money but told his investigators he was reporting on African migrants sneaking into Israel from Egypt.
The Haaretz newspaper identified the man as one of its reporters, Yotam Feldman. The paper said the reporter had taken a leave of absence to work on a story for an Israeli TV station.
The Israeli military said it was trying to secure the man’s release.
A medical official in the Egyptian city of Rafah said the 30—year—old Israeli hurt his hand on the barbed wire fence as he tried to cross the border.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the arrest.
Smugglers help thousands of African migrants to cross into Israel every year from Egypt. Would—be border crossers travel thousands of miles and pay about $400 to Bedouin smugglers to sneak them across the border on foot, according to Israeli groups who try to help the migrants.
The crossings usually happen late at night to avoid detection by Egyptian border guards, who have been criticized by the United Nations and other international agencies for shooting at migrants as they attempt to breach the border into Israel. Around 60 have been shot dead trying to cross, according to the UN.
Over the past few years, the number of illegal migrants attempting to cross into Israel has spiked. Most come from Sudan and the horn of Africa, and many attempt to secure political asylum once they arrive. The number of African asylum—seekers in Israel is around 20,000.
The refugees pose a unique policy problem for the Jewish state, setting off debate over how Israel can fulfill its international obligation to provide sanctuary for refugees without paving the way for further waves of African migrants. Israel’s government has said that most migrants are not fleeing war but are rather looking for work.
Israel has taken steps to crack down on illegal entry, announcing a plan to deport all illegal immigrants within the country by 2013. In January, the government also announced plans to build two walls along the border with Egypt, partly to stem the flow of migrants.