Israel on Sunday returned to Egypt 50 Sudanese refugees who had entered the country illegally the previous day, a senior official said. "These Sudanese were handed over to the Egyptian authorities in accordance with an accelerated deportation procedure," a senior official in the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told AFP.
Israel said the transfer was the start of the return of thousands of Africans who have infiltrated the country in recent years through the Egyptian border.
African refugees trying to enter Israel illegally through its 250-kilometer border with Egypt are caught nearly every day. More than 220 Africans, mostly Sudanese from the war-torn Darfur region, were detained last month alone while trying to cross the frontier, Egyptian officials have said.
In an effort to counter the influx, Israel has said people entering the country illegally from Egypt will be deported. But it has also said it would help "a small number" of asylum-seekers from Darfur.
Egyptian security confirmed late Saturday that Israel sent back 48 Africans, most of them Sudanese, across the border with Egypt.
According to United Nations figures, there are currently 1,200 refugees from Sudan in Israel, among them 300 from Darfur region.