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African Migrants Protest At Tel Aviv Embassies

posted 6 Jan 2014, 07:27 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 6 Jan 2014, 07:28 ]

Thousands of African migrants march to the U.S. French, Italian, British, Canadian and German embassies in Tel Aviv to protest Israel's detention policies.

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (JANUARY 6, 2014) (REUTERS) -  Thousands of African migrants protested outside Western embassies in Tel Aviv on Monday (January 6), demanding freedom for compatriots jailed by Israel in a desert facility under a new open-ended detention law.

"Freedom," chanted the crowd that packed a Mediterranean beach front promenade across from the U.S. embassy.

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Protesters also marched to the French, Italian, British, Canadian and German embassies to hand over letters appealing for international support against Israel's detention policy toward migrants it sees as illegal job-seekers.

"We are doing a demonstration to get our rights in Israel so we are begging to the government to give us our rights as we are refugees," said protester Murattab Seyaha.

"We are here today to request basic human rights. We are refugees. We don't need to be arrested. We don't need to be detained," added protester Germai Asmaro.

Three weeks ago, Israel's parliament approved a law permitting authorities to detain migrants without valid visas indefinitely. The measure has been condemned by critics as a violation of human rights.

Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel was too small a country to be able to absorb so many migrants.

"I think it's very clear that most of those immigrants came across the border illegally, in order to look for work. We already closed the border between Israel and Africa and we are trying to handle the situation and to encourage - not to force but to encourage - most of them to leave," said Steinitz.

An Israeli border fence has cut off the African influx from Egypt since 2012, but migrants who have already crossed can be sent to what the government describes as an open prison in Israel's southern desert.

Some 60,000 migrants, largely from Eritrea and Sudan, have crossed into Israel across a once-porous border with Egypt since 2006, Israeli authorities say. Many say they want asylum and safe haven. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he views the presence of many of the Africans as a threat to Israel's Jewish social fabric.

On Sunday (January 5), more than 10,000 Africans demonstrated outside Tel Aviv city hall on behalf of what human rights groups said are more than 300 migrants arrested since the detention law went into effect.

Dozens more have been summoned for detention, among them men with wives and children, rights activists and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees(UNHCR) said.

The new detention facility resembles a half-way house. Detainees can leave but must report back three times a day, including at nightfall, and may be held without a time limit pending voluntary repatriation, implementation of deportation orders or resolution of their asylum requests.

In a statement Sunday, Walpurga Englbrecht, the UNHCR representative in Israel, criticised Israel's official description of migrants as "infiltrators", saying most were refugees or deserved international protection.