More than 30,000 African asylum seekers have taken to the streets of Tel Aviv in the largest-ever protest by migrants in Israel’s history, demanding the government recognise their status as refugees.
Mickey Rosenfeld, a police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that most of the demonstrators were asylum seekers from Africa who wanted to stay in the country.
“There are thousands of people assembling in central Tel Aviv and they are mostly Africans who are requesting to stay in the country,” Rosenfeld said.
Participants chanted “We are all refugees” and “yes to freedom, no to prison!”.
“We have fled persecution, dictatorships, civil wars and genocides,” Dawud, an Eritrean asylum-seeker at the protest, told AFP news agency.
“The Israeli government must study our requests for asylum and treat us like human beings,” Dawud said, without giving his full name.
About 60,000 African asylum seekers currently live in Israel, with the majority coming from Eritrea and Sudan.
Under legislation passed on December 10, the authorities can indefinitely detain migrants who entered the country illegally for up to a year without trial. Israel has also opened a new detention facility in the Negev desert in which to hold the asylum seekers.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel has recognised fewer than 200 people as refugees, human rights groups say.