Tens of thousands of African migrants protesting in central Tel Aviv

Tens of thousands of African refugees, asylum seekers and migrants held a protest in Tel-Aviv’s Rabin Square on Sunday morning, against efforts to round them up and send them to a detention center. Among the protesters Israeli human rights activists and a leading member of the Communist Party of Israel, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash).

African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, “We asked for asylum and got jail”  Sunday, January 5, 2014. (Photo: MK Dov Khenin)

African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, “We asked for asylum and got jail” Sunday, January 5, 2014. (Photo: MK Dov Khenin)

“Yes to freedom, no to jail,” protesters chanted at the Tel Aviv rally. Separately, hundreds of migrants held a separate rally in Eilat, the seaside resort town where many African asylum seekers or labor migrants work in the tourism industry.  African workers across the country were told by protest organizers to skip work Sunday through Tuesday. The strike affected the many restaurants, cafes, hotels and janitorial companies employing African migrants.

“Our strike is not an act against the employers but a form of protest,” said the statement released by human rights activists involved in the protest. “We are aware of the risk of striking, that we are liable to lose our jobs and our incomes. This step is meant to clarify to Israelis society: We fled here because of the danger to our lives in our countries of origin. We are seeking political asylum. Like every person, we also want to earn an income so we can live in dignity – but work is not the reason we came to Israel.” Protest organizers are calling for the law authorizing the opening of the Holot detention center to be overturned, as well as for Israel to stop rounding up migrants and to release all those jailed under the new law. They are also calling on Israel to honor the UN Refugee Convention and give reasonable consideration to all asylum requests.

The recently opened Holot detention center is considered an open detention center because migrants held there are allowed to leave during daylight hours, but they must report for roll call three times a day, in an effort to keep them from getting a job. The facility “ought to be called a jail,” says a flyer announcing the strike. “Our only sin is that we ran away from political persecution, forcible military service, dictatorship, civil war and genocide,” the flyer says.


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