Thousands of people gathered at Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv on Tuesday for a third day of protests against Israeli immigration policies for asylum seekers, while a hunger strike by over 100 migrants in the Saharonim detention center continued into a second day.
Organizers are also planning a march from Levinsky Park to Jerusalem on Wednesday, pending a permit.
“During the unprecedented protests yesterday and the day before, the strikers reiterated a clear message,” organizers said in a statement ahead of the protests Tuesday. “You cannot imprison us as if we were criminals, and we are determined to continue the nonviolent struggle to free the prisoners, cancel the infiltration law, fairly examine our asylum requests and advance our fundamental rights.”
Thousands of migrants launched a three-day strike and started staging protests in Tel Aviv on Sunday, with 20,000 people showing up to a march that started in Levinsky Park and ended with a demonstration in Rabin Square. And on Monday, about 5,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants demonstrated outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, flooding the boardwalk outside the building, while others gathered at the British and French embassies. Throngs of asylum seekers held aloft signs and Eritrean and US flags as they chanted “Freedom” and “No more prison.”
In addition, 130 migrants held in the Saharonim detention center in the Negev launched a hunger strike.
The migrants, mostly asylum-seekers from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia, are demanding official refugee status and are protesting the Israeli government’s policy of holding them for long periods in the new Holot detention facility in the Negev.
The UN High Commissioner on Refugees called on Israel Sunday to reform its policies toward African asylum-seekers, after tens of thousands of migrants demonstrated against involuntary detentions and rules which, critics say, treats them as criminals.
A UNHCR representative warned in an interview with Army Radio Tuesday that Israel is making a mistake in its handling of the situation, but said that the UNHCR is interested in working with Israel to find an acceptable solution.
The government, however, has said that it does not plan to change its policies toward migrants and insists that most of them are illegal migrants who have come to Israel seeking to work, not true asylum-seekers.
“Protests will not help. Strikes will not help,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on his official Facebook page Sunday. “We completely halted the infiltration into Israel and now we are determined to remove the illegal infiltrators that entered Israel. Last year we increased sixfold the number of infiltrators that left, to more than 2,600, and the goal this year is to increase this figure even more.”