More Than 30,000 African Migrants March in Tel Aviv For Refugee Rights

(January 15, 2014)

More Than 30,000 African Migrants March in Tel Aviv For Refugee Rights

african migrantsTens of thousands of African asylum seekers and their supporters took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Sunday to demand that the Israeli government recognize their refugee status and end the policy of detention without trial.

“More than 30,000 demonstrators marched peacefully,” police spokeswoman Lubra Samri said, which would make the action the largest such rally by migrants in Israel’s history.

The protest comes after a December mass walk-out from a detention facility by hundreds of asylum seekers who are detained there during the night and barred from seeking work during the day. Those caught breaking the strict rules risk arrest and confinement in a closed prison.

Human rights groups say more than 300 people have been arrested since a new law, passed by Israel’s parliament three weeks ago, allows authorities to detain migrants without valid visas indefinitely.

Mickey Rosenfeld, a police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that most of the demonstrators at Sunday’s rally were asylum seekers from Africa who wanted to stay in the country.

“There are thousands of people assembling in central Tel Aviv, and they are mostly Africans who are requesting to stay in the country,” Rosenfeld said.

Asylum seekers chanting “we are all refugees” and “yes to freedom, no to prison,” were joined by Israeli rights activists during the march.

“We have fled persecution, dictatorships, civil wars and genocides,” Dawud, an Eritrean asylum-seeker at the protest, told Agence France-Presse. “The Israeli government must study our requests for asylum and treat us like human beings,”  he added, declining to give his full name.

He said that demonstrators intended to head for the United Nations refugee agency’s (UNHCR) Tel Aviv office and foreign embassies in the coastal city.

“Instead of considering us refugees, Israel treats us like criminals,” Dawud said.

Many African immigrants in Israel live in poor areas of Tel Aviv and say they want asylum and safe haven. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he views the presence of many of the Africans as a threat to Israel’s Jewish social fabric and his government.

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