MK Khenin: Israeli government offer harsh words an incitement against African asylum seekers

Tens of thousands of African migrants in Israel marched from Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv to the embassies of the United States and other countries Monday morning, continuing the protest that began Sunday. They are demanding foreign governments exert pressure on Israel to recognize them as refugees, stop arresting them and free those imprisoned.

Some of the embassies included France, Britain and Canada. They are also marching to the United Nations Refugee Agency, waving Eritrean flags and holding signs saying “No More Prison” and “Freedom.”

Around 20,000 African refugees and supporters participate in the main demonstration in front of the American embassy, calling to support their struggle against Israel's asylum policies, Tel Aviv, January 6, 2014 (Photo: Activestills)

Around 20,000 African refugees and supporters participate in the main demonstration in front of the American embassy, calling to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies, Tel Aviv, January 6, 2014 (Photo: Activestills)

The migrants, many of whom are menial laborers in Israel, began a three-day strike Sunday to protest Israeli government policy. Tens of thousands of African migrants went on strike on Sunday, disrupting the normal operation of many businesses, primarily restaurants, cafes, hotels, and cleaning services.

Instead of going to work, over 20,000 African migrants protested in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, chanting “Yes to freedom, no to jail” and “we’re refugees, not criminals.” The protest lasted for about four hours and dispersed without incident. Hundreds of migrants also protested in front of government offices in Eilat. “The asylum seekers strike must turn the attention to these people that right-wing Israeli government continues to ignore and instead of offering real solutions, they only offer harsh words, racism and incitement,” MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) stated in the demonstration. “Sending people for indefinite detention in the open desert is not the solution. As long as these people are in Israel and cannot return to their countries of origin, as the Israeli Foreign Ministry itself admits, they must be treated fairly.”

Protest organizers are calling for the law authorizing their detention in the new Holot facility to be overturned, as well as for Israel to stop rounding up migrants and to release all those jailed under the new law. Israel, they maintain, is obliged to honor the UN Refugee Convention and give reasonable consideration to all asylum requests.

Day two of the protest and strike follows criticism from the UN Refugee Agency (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) on Israel’s policy on African migrants, in particular new amendments to the country’s anti-infiltration law. Following Sunday’s mass protest of tens of thousands of migrants and their supporters in Tel Aviv, the UNHCR representative in Israel published a rare press release, calling on Israel to consider alternatives to its current “warehousing” of migrants.

The release was titled “Israel’s new laws and policies do not live up to the Spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention.” UNHCR has previously criticized the amendments to the anti-infiltration law, and even brought its position before the High Court of Justice, but, until now, has refrained from making public statements. In the press release published Sunday, the agency said that in principle it supports establishing a residence facility for asylum seekers, but not in its current incarnation at Holot. “I am particularly disquieted about the purpose of the so-called ‘open’ residence facility in Holot which, in its current form and despite its designation as ‘open,’ would appear to operate as a detention center from where there is no release,” UNHCR representative Walpurga Englbrecht said. “This means in effect indefinite detention.”


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