Hundreds of women and children marched Wednesday morning from Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park to the offices of the UN high commissioner for refugees in the city. The event was designed to counter claims that the vast majority of migrants in Israel were young men, which would indicate that most were in the country to seek work, not to flee danger in their home countries. Protesters carried signs in English and Hebrew reading, “We are human beings,” “Don’t split up families,” and “We are seeking asylum.”
Last week, a well-organized campaign was launched by the African migrants in support of their quest for official refugee status in Israel. Last Wednesday, a crowd of 10,000 gathered at the Knesset, and on Sunday, an estimated 30,000 rallied in Tel Aviv and Eilat while over 100 migrants began an open-ended hunger strike. Israel is a signatory to the United Nation’s 1951 Refugee Convention, which makes it illegal to imprison or penalize refugees. But while most migrants in Israel say they are seeking refugee status, the Israeli government has remained firm in its stance that the vast majority of the 60,000 are not refugees at all, but rather illegal migrants who came to Israel seeking economic gain. The right wing and neo-liberal government reiterated last week that it does not plan to change its policies.