Egyptian border police guards last week shot and killed another African migrant who tried to infiltrate the border into Israel.

Over the past three years, more than 60 African nationals, including women and children, have been shot and killed and hundreds others wounded or detained by Egyptian police guards in the Sinai Peninsula.

Most of the migrants were Christians from Ivory Coast, Sudan and Eritrea.

They were not trying to smuggle weapons to Hamas. Nor were they trying to smuggle drugs. They were simply on their way to search for work and good life in Israel.

One of the victims was a seven-year-old Eritrean girl who was shot to death by the Egyptians as she and her mother tried to cross the border into Israel. The mother was arrested and sent to prison in Egypt.

The crackdown on the African migrants, which began about four years ago, raises many questions as to the way the Egyptians are handling security matters along their borders.

On the one hand, President Hosni Mubarak's soldiers are opening fire at defenseless women and children whose only crime is that they are trying to flee to a country (Israel) where they hope to live in dignity and security.

On the other hand, these soldiers have long been turning a blind eye to the vast network of underground tunnels which are being used for smuggling different kinds of weapons and tons of explosives into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

It's not clear why Mubarak considers the poor African job-seekers more dangerous than the Hamas smugglers.

When tens of thousands of Hamas supporters knocked down the border fence and streamed into Egypt two years ago, the Egyptian border guards did nothing to stop them.

Had Mubarak displayed the same firmness that he's displaying against the migrants to stop the smuggling of rockets and missiles into the Gaza Strip, it's likely that he would have saved the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Mubarak is probably afraid of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose members openly boast that senior Egyptian security officers are on their payroll to turn a blind eye to the flourishing smuggling industry along the border with the Gaza Strip.

It's much easier for the Egyptian security guards to kill African migrants than to open fire at a member of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Many of the migrants had initially arrived in Egypt in search of work and security. Others left their villages with the specific goal of making it to Israel.

Those who thought they could find work in Egypt quickly discovered that the country's poor economy does allow for new opportunities. Moreover, as Christians in a pre-dominantly Muslim dictatorship, they also quickly discovered that this was not the right place for them to be in.

And the Egyptian authorities, for their part, never wanted these migrants in the country in the first place. But the tragic irony is that Egyptian soldiers are shooting them when they try escape from Egypt.

Some say that the African migrants are being killed and arrested because they can't afford to pay bribes to Egyptian soldiers and officers.

According to the testimonies of some refugees who made it to Israel, they succeeded in their mission only because they paid heavy sums to Egyptian law-enforcers patrolling the borders.

It's also ironic that while these migrants are being mistreated and killed by Arab governments, Israel is the only country in the region that is providing them with shelter, work and education. The number of African refugees now living in Israel is estimated at approximately 10,000.

Most of the refugees say they are running away from the ruthless regimes and poverty in Africa.

In downtown Jerusalem, I recently met a Sudanese man and his wife. They managed to cross the border from Egypt a few years ago, they told me.

"But why to Israel, of all places?" I asked.

"Because in our village in southern Sudan we have been hearing for a long time about the good life in Israel and that this was one of the few countries in the Middle East where Christians feel safe," the wife said without hesitation. "We were also told that Israeli soldiers don't open fire at women and children who are trying to cross the border."

Back then, I saw no point in publishing what the Sudanese couple told me becasue I was sure that it would be viewed as "Zionist propaganda."The next time the problem of the (Palestinian) refugees is raised, one must bear in mind the suffering of these African migrants too. Until then, Mubarak's brave men will undoubtedly continue to direct their guns against these refugees.

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