African migrants march in Tel Aviv, demand refugee status

Demonstration comes days after asylum seekers walk out of new detention facility in protest of government’s detention policy

African asylum seekers at the Holot detention center in southern Israel on December 21, 2013 (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
African asylum seekers at the Holot detention center in southern Israel on December 21, 2013 (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Hundreds of African migrants, mostly Sudanese and Eritreans, and human rights activists marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday night shouting “freedom” and “no more prison,” in protest of the implementation of the Israeli government’s policy to detain illegal migrants.

The protesters demanded they not be sent to detention facilities in the Negev and that they be granted full refugee status.

According to some reports, the number of demonstrators reached over 1,500.

Police said they arrested two people on suspicion of disturbing the peace.

The demonstration came days after migrants staged marches, on two separate occasions, in protest of their detention at the newly established Holot facility in the south.

On Thursday, close to 130 migrants protested the arrests of their fellows, who were apprehended by police during a gathering in front of the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday.

Immigration police officers who arrived at the scene ordered the demonstrators to stop marching, and arrested several of them who attempted to flee. According to police, half of the marchers were detained at the Saharonim prison complex while the remaining protesters were returned to Holot.

Since last Thursday, 480 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, were transferred to Holot, which is located in the Negev desert and can hold as many as 3,000.

On Sunday, 250 migrants fled Holot for a sit-in in Jerusalem to demonstrate against rules keeping them in the detention center. Hundreds of migrants were arrested during the sit-in.

Holot replaces the Saharonim prison complex, where migrants have been held up until last week. The new facility, where the terms of the migrants’ detention are somewhat more lax than at Saharonim, was erected after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that incarcerating the migrants without trial for up to three years, as was previously the standard, was unconstitutional.

The facility has an open-door policy in which residents are permitted to leave the site during the day but are required to return three times for a roll call. The Holot gates are locked between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. every night, during which time all residents must be behind its fences. Around a dozen migrants were to be housed in every dorm room, and each wing, with a capacity of 140 residents, has its own dining room and recreation areas.

“The infiltrators who were transferred to a special facility can stay there, or return to their home countries,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday.

In the wake of the court ruling prohibiting the incarceration of migrants without trial for up to three years, the Knesset approved changes to the “Infiltrator Law” to enable authorities to imprison migrants who arrived in Israel after June 2013 for up to a year without trial and to keep them indefinitely at the new Holot facility.

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