Internet campaign draws attention to asylum seekers

Social media effort highlights statements by African refugees in effort to humanize detainees

African migrants protesting outside the Holot detention facility in February 2014. (Flash90)
African migrants protesting outside the Holot detention facility in February 2014. (Flash90)

Activists have launched a social media campaign aimed at drawing attention to the plight of African migrants and asylum seekers detained by the Israeli government.

Holot Voices, a campaign named after the refugee detention center in the Negev Desert near the border with Egypt, is an attempt by activists to humanize the roughly 2,500 African asylum seekers who illegally entered Israel and are currently in custody.

Postings from the campaign, which also has a Hebrew-language website, have shared dozens of quotes from asylum seekers interviewed by activists since its launch Sunday morning.

“Although we are black, to most of people we are transparent,” one user wrote, quoting an imprisoned Eritrean asylum seeker identified as “V.”

Most of the asylum seekers, who are referred to as “infiltrators” by the government, hail from Sudan and Eritrea, two countries torn apart by years of war and crippling poverty.

The Supreme Court has threatened to order Holot closed several times over the terms of the country’s anti-migration law, forcing the government to submit a succession of amendments to the law.

Activists, who argue that the law is still unjust to the estimated 50,000 African migrants living in Israel, have taken to Facebook and Twitter to share their stories.

Since 2006, some 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese have entered Israel illegally via the Sinai Peninsula. In response, Israeli authorities constructed a fence along the border and build the Holot detention facility to house them.

For the past eight years, Israel has struggled to establish and implement a clear legal framework to deal with the large influx of migrants, which has resulted in confusing and often conflicting ad-hoc immigration policies.

Critics say Israel has dallied on reviewing migrants’ requests for official asylum-seeker status, and has instead sought to encourage them to leave by incarcerating them and denying them the ability to work.

Times of Israel Staff and AP contributed to this report.

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