African asylum seekers held a press conference Tuesday in south Tel Aviv, where they 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 nationals are not processed, others are, although the rate at which they are accepted is almost zero.
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.
Mulgeta Tumuzgi from Eritrea, who had a message for the people of Israel, said: “Don’t be afraid. We are not here to cause you harm. We are not your enemy.”
They went on to announce that their next event will be a march to Jerusalem in order to officially submit their demands to the government, which include: freeing all Africans imprisoned for seeking asylum; amending the anti-infiltrator law; demanding the government check every single asylum request; and speak directly with the community in order to find a solution.
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.”
The press conference comes just one day after thousands of asylum seekers protested outside eight Western and African embassies in Tel Aviv, where they called on the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies.
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