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Africans protest Israel’s new detention laws




Thousands of African migrants, many holding banners demanding freedom for compatriots jailed by Israel, have staged a protest in Tel Aviv against Israel’s new open-ended detention law that allows migrants to be sent to a desert prison.

Israel protests
RIGHT: Thousands turned out to protest

The protests prompted a rare and strongly worded statement from the UN refugee agency, saying Israel’s incarceration of migrants, including family breadwinners, caused “hardship and suffering” and was not in line with a 1951 world treaty on the treatment of refugees.

Human rights groups say more than 300 people have been arrested since the law, which allows authorities to detain migrants without valid visas indefinitely, was passed by the Knesset three weeks ago.

Tens of thousands of African migrants went on strike on Sunday, the first working day of the week in Israel, disrupting the normal operation of many businesses such as restaurants, cafes, hotels, and cleaning services. Instead of going to work, over 20,000 African migrants protested in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, chanting “Yes to freedom, no to jail” and “we’re refugees, not criminals.”

Israel protests1LEFT:Protests have been peaceful

The protest lasted for about four hours and dispersed without incident. Hundreds of migrants also protested in front of government offices in Eilat.

Ultra-Orthodox MP Eli Yishai said the migrants had been encouraged by “anti-Zionist human rights organisations,”

He told Israel’s Maariv daily newspaper the protest was “a sharp and clear cry for the state of Israel and judicial and law enforcement authorities to apply all the means at their disposal to return the infiltrators to their countries.”

Tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese citizens skipped work again Monday to protest in front of the UN Refugee Agency and a number of embassies in Tel Aviv.

UN Convention puts Israel in a pickle

Protest organizers are calling for the law authorising their detention in the new Holot facility to be overturned, as well as for Israel to stop rounding up migrants and to release all those jailed under the new law. Israel, they maintain, is obliged to honour the UN Refugee Convention and give reasonable consideration to all asylum requests.

It is estimated that around 60,000 migrants, largely from Eritrea and Sudan, have crossed into Israel across a once-porous border with Egypt since 2006, Israeli authorities said.

Many live in poor areas of Tel Aviv and say they want asylum and safe haven. Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has said he views the presence of many of the Africans as a threat to Israel’s Jewish social fabric.

An Israeli border fence has cut off the African influx from Egypt since 2012, but migrants who have already crossed can be sent to what the government describes as an open prison in Israel’s southern desert.

Population & Immigration Authority gets tough

Three weeks ago, the government transferred 483 African migrants who had been imprisoned in Saharonim prison to Holot. Many of them participated in the recent protest march from Holot, and were returned to Saharonim for violating the terms of their residency. Last week, the Population and Immigration Authority began instructing other migrants from Eritrea and Sudan to report to the Holot facility in 30 days, or face imprisonment.

Holot residents are forbidden from working and must report for roll call three times a day, in the morning, afternoon and evening.

 “The government is giving us two options – return home, or be in the open facility. That’s unacceptable – neither going home nor the open facility,” said Muatsam, a Sudanese citizen and also a protest leader. Addressing the government from the podium, he said, “Now we are asking for one thing – to close the facilities, release all of the people being held there and stop the police from arresting people. Look into our asylum requests truthfully, and recognise us as refugees.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Documentary watcher

    Jan 6, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    ‘Documentary commissioned by the New York Times on the issue – but deemed unsuitable:
    \nThanks for taking the trouble to post this, DW, but, like the NYT, we also don’t consider it suitable. A documentary should be balanced and express all points of view.   -ED

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