African migrants and Israeli human rights activists scuffle with Israeli immigration police outside parliament.
JERUSALEM (DECEMBER 17, 2013) (REUTERS) - Israeli police on Tuesday (December 17) sent back to custody more than 150 African migrants who had abandoned a desert holding facility in protest at a new law allowing them to be kept there indefinitely.
"We are human beings, we want justice. We come from war places," protesters chanted outside parliament.
The Israeli government says that most of the 50,000 African migrants, mostly Sudanese and Eritrean, who have since 2006 crossed over the Egyptian border into its territory, are illegal job-seekers, who threaten the Jewish state's social makeup.
But rights groups and liberal lawmakers say many are asylum-seekers fleeing hardship and persecution in their homelands.
"There have certainly been a lot of problems with people crossing the border but I think we are bound to do all that we can to help people who are refugees. It's part of the principle this country has been found on. And I think it is very important not just for them but for our country and for its moral fiber to see that we give this people justice," said Laura Wharton Jerusalem City Councilmember who was taking part in the protest.
Police and immigration officers broke up the migrants' demonstration and loaded them on to buses headed for prison. A police spokesman said there were some minor scuffles at the scene, but no one was hurt.
"The Israeli police and its different units outside the Israeli knesset have dealt with a number of disturbances. We've removed all the immigrants that were having a peaceful protests until this morning. Unfortunately, once the roads were blocked, immediately our units responded and we've taken up all of the people here at the protest onto the buses, slowly but carefully, in order to prevent any injuries. Until now no-one has been injured," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
An Israeli immigration official said the migrants would be held in prison for up to 90 days, for breaking the terms of custody in the newly-built open facility that they had abandoned late on Sunday.
The open facility, in a remote southern Israeli desert, allows the 400 migrants who were moved there from a nearby prison last week, to leave during the day and return at night.
The newly-passed law says they may be held there pending voluntary repatriation, implementation of deportation orders or resolution of their asylum requests.
Rights group have appealed the new law, which replaced previous legislation, annulled by theSupreme Court last September.
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