African Migrants Abandon Israeli Detention Center in Protest And Begin March To Jerusalem
More than 100 African migrants have abandoned an “open” Israeli detention centre to try to march on Jerusalem in protest at a law allowing authorities to keep them in custody indefinitely, activists said on Monday.
Israel views most of the more than 50,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants who have crossed its border on foot from Egypt since 2006 as illegal job-seekers overburdening its low-income areas. It has sought to encourage most of them to leave.
The centre in southern Israel was opened last week after parliamentary approval of a law allowing the open-ended detention of migrants in the facility pending resolution of their asylum requests, implementation of deportation orders or voluntary repatriation.
The detention centre, which housed about 400 migrants who had been moved from another holding facility, allows detainees to leave during the day but requires them to return at nightfall.
Cheska Katz, of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants rights group, said that 135 men, mostly from Sudan, decided not to return to the centre on Sunday night and instead set out for Jerusalem, about 75 km (45 miles) away.
“They aren’t trying to elude the authorities. Their aim is to reach the Knesset (parliament) and ask for their freedom and to be recognised as refugees,” the activist, who is taking part in the march, said by telephone.
One of the detainees on the march, Mubarak Ali, told Israel Radio: “We want them to know that we are still in a prison … (although) they call it open detention.”
An Israeli immigration official told the radio station that the protesters had up to 48 hours to return to the facility or face detention in a standard jail.
An Israeli police spokesman had no immediate comment on whether police would prevent the group from reaching the city.
The protest coincided with an appeal filed in Israel’s Supreme Court by human rights groups against the new law, which also stipulated that new migrants caught entering the country illegally could be jailed in a standard prison for up to a year.
Update: Migrants Arrive At Tel Aviv To Protest Prison-Like Detention Centers
An estimated 1,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants, along with Israeli human rights activists, marched through the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night to urge the government to consider the asylum requests of migrants from Africa and release the approximately 3,000 held in Israeli custody.
“I looked into the eyes of the people here with me – everyone has had enough,” said Najmaldin, a Sudanese migrant who took part in the rally and did not want to give his last name. “People want their asylum requests looked into.”
Human rights groups say an estimated 3,000 of the 50,000 asylum seekers in Israel are locked up in the Saharonim detention center in the Negev. The government moved 480 of them to Holot, a nearby open detention facility, after the Knesset approved a legal amendment earlier this month authorizing the open center, where migrants are locked in only at night.
Though they are technically free to leave the premises during the day, they have to be present for roll call three times a day, a restriction meant to prevent them from finding jobs outside the facility. Last week hundreds of migrants marched out of the open center in protest, but were ultimately taken back into custody.
On Saturday, demonstrators marched from Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv, where many migrants live, to Independence Hall on swanky Rothschild Boulevard. In an unplanned continuation of the protest, the demonstrators kept marching through Tel Aviv and blocked off some of the city’s roads, waving signs reading “Liberty” and “Not another jail.”
Human rights groups have said there is no real difference between the open detention center and a jail. Several of the groups have filed a High Court petition against the law that authorizes the Holot center, as well as allowing the state to hold migrants for up to a year without trial, down from three years.
Nazer, a migrant, said Israeli efforts to sway migrants like him to go back to Sudan or to neighboring Eritrea, by offering grants to those who leave the country, would not succeed. The cabinet recently agreed to more than double the amount offered, bringing the grant to $3,500.
“I didn’t come here for $3,500,” said Nazer. “I came here because I’m a refugee. The State of Israel wants to send us back to Sudan and Eritrea. How can we go back? There’s a war there.”