Thousands of African migrants protest Israel detention policy

TEL AVIV Sun Jan 5, 2014 4:52pm EST

1 of 8. African migrants hold signs during a protest at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv January 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Nir Elias

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TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Thousands of African migrants, many holding banners demanding freedom for compatriots jailed by Israel, protested on Sunday in a Tel Aviv square against a new open-ended detention law which allows migrants to be sent to a desert prison.

The protests prompted a rare and strongly worded statement from the U.N. refugee agency, saying that Israel's incarceration of migrants, including family breadwinners, caused "hardship and suffering" and was "not in line with" a 1951 world treaty on the treatment of refugees.

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

Dozens more have been summoned for detention, among them men with wives and children, rights activists and the UNHCR said.

Some 60,000 migrants, largely from Eritrea and Sudan, have crossed into Israel across a once-porous border with Egypt since 2006, Israeli authorities say.

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

An Israeli border fence has cut off the African influx from Egypt since 2012, but migrants who have already crossed can be sent to what the government describes as an open prison in Israel's southern desert.

The new facility, which was the focal point of the protests by some 10,000 in Tel Aviv, is similar to a half-way house. Detainees can leave during the day but must report back by nightfall. Migrants can be held there without a time limit pending voluntary repatriation, implementation of deportation orders or resolution of their asylum requests.

In a written statement, Walpurga Englbrecht, the UNHCR representative in Israel, said she was "particularly disquieted" about the newest Israeli facility that "would appear to operate as a detention center from where there is no release. This means in effect indefinite detention."

She urged Israel to look for new solutions, saying that "warehousing" refugees was not "in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention."

Englbrecht also slammed Israel's labeling of many migrants as "infiltrators," saying most were refugees or deserved international protection.

"Placing asylum-seekers in duress that may force them to opt to return without having examined their asylum claims could amount to a violation" of the refugee convention, she said.

Hotline for Migrant Workers, an organization that advocates for the Africans, accuses Israel of pressuring hundreds in its jails to accept payouts and leave. More than a dozen left earlier this year for Eritrea to win release from prison.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Rosalind Russell)

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Comments (17)
hickorystiks wrote:
This sounds like the USA.
Sneak into the country then demand civil rights

Jan 05, 2014 11:00am EST  --  Report as abuse
hrjay wrote:
what on earth makes people think they have a ‘right’ to move into another country, and demand they simply take them in, and give them ‘there rights’? they should be sent back to where ever they came from, if the UN is so concerned then they should force out the Parties that are responsible for the continued violence, try them in open court, and execute them. Instead all they do is wine about ‘human rights’ at someone else’s expense. The UN is a total waist of time and money, we(the US) should kick the whole rotten thing out of the country, knock the building down, and build a park on the site. Use the money we spend on the UN each year, on education here, and stop supporting the rest of the world, most of which doesn’t like us in the first place, and where we have no real interest anyway. while were at it we should stop all foreign aid, unless they are relevant to our national interest’s.

Jan 05, 2014 8:12pm EST  --  Report as abuse
chachamama wrote:
Israel has no responsibility for illegal entrants.

“If we don’t stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state” “This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity.” -Netanyahu

More than 13,500 people entered Israel illegally in 2010, of whom almost two-thirds were Eritrean and one-third were Sudanese. Three were granted refugee status by Israel, rising to six last year. Human rights organisations say more than 50,000 asylum seekers and migrants have entered Israel illegally since 2005.

Jan 06, 2014 12:07am EST  --  Report as abuse
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