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Middle East

African migrants protest Israel detention law

Thousands appeal for international support in fight against controversial policy towards migrants.

Last updated: 07 Jan 2014 21:03
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Thousands of African migrants have continued to march in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, appealing for the support of Western governments against Israel's detention policy towards migrants who entered the country illegally.

Protesters held banners reading "No more prison" and "We are refugees" outside Western embassies for the third consecutive day on Tuesday, with leaders at the rally saying they would persist with demonstrations until Israel cancelled legislation enabling long-term detentions and reviewed their requests for refugee status.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said on Monday that the protests would not affect his government's stance on asylum seekers.

"Just as we've succeeded in blocking off illegal infiltrations thanks to the security fence, we're determined to send back those who made it in before the border was closed," he told members of his rightwing Likud party.

A police spokesman told news agency AFP that the protesters were coordinating with police on their plan to stage more rallies on Wednesday, this time in Jerusalem.

Their plight prompted a strongly worded statement from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), saying that Israel's incarceration of migrants, caused "hardship and suffering" and was "not in line with" a 1951 world treaty on the treatment of refugees.

"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 international refugee conventions, Walpurga Englbrecht, the UNHCR representative in Israel, said in a statement on Sunday.

Englbrecht criticised Israel's official description of migrants as "infiltrators", saying most were refugees or deserved international protection.

Hundreds arrested

Israel's newest detention facility "would appear to operate as a detention centre from where there is no release", she said.


Israel isn't their home and we will make efforts to ensure it won't become a state of infiltrators

Gideon Saar, Israel Interior Minister

The protests on Monday followed a mass demonstration of Africans outside Tel Aviv city hall on Sunday.

On December 10, Israel's parliament approved a law permitting authorities to detain migrants without valid visas indefinitely.

More than 300 migrants have been arrested since the new law went into effect, and dozens more have been summoned for detention, the UNHCR said.

Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Saar rejected the allegations, telling Israel Army Radio on Monday the vast majority of migrants had come in search of jobs, not asylum.

"But Israel isn't their home and we will make efforts to ensure it won't become a state of infiltrators," he 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.

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 detention facility resembles a half-way house.

Detainees can leave but must report back three times a day, including at nightfall, and may be held without a time limit pending voluntary repatriation, implementation of deportation orders or resolution of their asylum requests.

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