Thousands of African asylum seekers gathered in Levinsky Park’ southern Tel-Aviv on Tuesday morning where they held speeches and a discussion to determine where to take the protest movement next, after two days of a national strike called by the community. At 2 p.m. they held a press conference where they discussed where to take the protest next. Protest leaders said at the press conference that although they are tired and the pressure against them is great, they have no choice but to fight for what they believe are their rights. Speakers called for a march today to Jerusalem at 13:00.
During the press conference in south Tel Aviv, the African asylum seekers announced that they will continue their “Strike for Freedom” until further notice. Representatives of the community from Sudan, Eritrea and Central African Republic spoke in both Hebrew and English about why they have been on strike and holding protests, and outlined their demands.
The speakers at the press conference all repeated several messages: that the African refugee community is made up of human beings fleeing slavery, danger and war; they are not scary, as the government likes to portray them; the protests are non-violent; there are no leaders or organizers, the entire community has decided together not to suffer any more, and has officially announced plans to continue the strike and protests until further notice.
Emanuel Yamane from Eritrea said the government, specifically Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, is lying. “No African refugee has received status or had their requests considered. Netanyahu says we are criminals, that we are illegal.” Mutasam Ali from Sudan emphasized that the protests are nonviolent and called on the government to directly speak with the community. “Israel is giving us a horrible choice: go to jail or face death. If we are part of the problem, we must be part of the solution.”
It should be noted that while the asylum claims of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers are not processed, others are. The speakers thanked the Israeli police for their help and cooperation over the last few days, adding that they are aware of the “balagan” (Hebrew for mess) they have caused in the various restaurants and hotels, whose workforce has been depleted as a result of the strike. They said they are aware that they constitute an integral part of the Israeli economy, have respect for their employers and appreciate those who have shown support for their struggle.
The one female representative who spoke, Sumaya Nedey from Sudan, called on Israel to respect the 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention to which Israel is a signatory. “If you don’t respect the convention, remove your signature,” said.