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African asylum seekers: We will continue to strike until demands are met

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.

African asylum seekers hold press conference in south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park, where they announce that they will continue striking. (photo: Activestills.org)

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.

Click here for +972 Magazine’s complete coverage of asylum seekers in Israel

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.

Day 2 of African asylum seeker protest: What do they want?
African asylum seekers strike to demand rights, hold unprecedented rally in Tel Aviv
Prison break: African asylum seekers claim their place on the Israeli political map
Knesset passes revised law for detention of African asylum seekers

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    1. Kolumn9

      Yes, but they are criminals and they are illegal. They illegally crossed the border and the jobs from which they are on strike are held illegally.

      The government is speaking pretty clearly and directly to them. They will not be integrated. Israel will not become their permanent home. Sooner or later they will be made to leave. For now they can stay in detention camps where they will be provided with shelter and have their basic needs met. Or they can find somewhere else to go. They can go back to the UNHCR refugee camps on the border with Eritrea or they can go back to Egypt from whence they came. They will not be setting up permanent legal residence in Israel.

      They can take their demands and ship them to the official representatives of their own countries. Illegally crossing the border does not provide one with legal standing. In Israel they have no authority to issue demands or to lobby the government. That is reserved for citizens. And the citizens have overwhelmingly rejected the idea that these people be allowed to stay.

      There will be no negotiations.

      Reply to Comment
      • “Illegally crossing the border does not provide one with legal standing.”

        “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence. (Article 31, (1))” : from the Convention on refugees. It is my understanding that in the past the State sometimes just gathered these refugees and dumped then off to fend on their own. No formal hearing process has ever been provided. This is why the High Court ruled over 3 years ago they could not be deported without hearing. The Convention, ratified by Israel, has been violated.

        Abrogate the treaty or provide hearings. Don’t go down the path of Kafka and Orwell.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Which part of ‘coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened’ did you miss when you were cutting and pasting?

          No need to abrogate the convention. It does not apply to Eritreans and Sudanese. Thank you for cutting and pasting the words that make this obvious.

          Reply to Comment
          • Adam Dayton

            coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened ****in the sense of article 1.***

            This effectively excludes any threat to life resulting from criminal Bedouin organizations with whom the migrants had freely affiliated.

            By the way Greg, where in the treaty does it say there needs to be hearings?

            Reply to Comment
    2. ‘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.”’

      That’s all it takes, right populists. But you won’t even give the Court that much.

      Instead of seeing this mass organization as an indicator of merit, the right will frame it as an attack, unwilling to give their racial opponent any emblem of value. I cannot recall a strike like this, and hope they have the will, under very difficult finances, to endure it, nonviolently. Their action honors the Court as an institution, and that message has to get across.

      But always remember: you are pawns in a greater game here, that of the Israeli unwritten constitution.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Repasting from a cut and paste by one Greg Pollock from the relevant convention on whom the convention applies: “coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened”

        An Eritrean would have to cross two countries (a journey of 1000 miles) and bypass the UNHCR camps across the border from their own country to get to Israel. How does one square that with an argument on the basis of a convention that talks about people that ‘come directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened’?

        The mass organization is an indicator of what would happen if there were half a million infiltrators in the country instead of 50,000. It would suggest that they would be able to mount an effective civil struggle to demand that the country shift in their desired direction in direct opposition to the desires of the Israeli population. It also suggests that Israel needs to deal with them before they achieve that level of power if it does not desire to succumb to their demands, which are basically to hand control of immigration policy to, well, noone, and be forced into accepting any and all that show up despite the express wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people to the contrary.

        That is indeed the message that they are sending to the Court, and I fail to see why you think it would be beneficial to your cause.

        I especially like the term ‘the Israeli unwritten constitution’. It demonstrates that even you understand that the supposed ‘constitution’ that you expect the Israeli justice system to use is entirely a figment of your imagination.

        Reply to Comment
      • david friedlander

        You are delusional beyond comprehension. These are economic migrants who infiltrated the state illegally. They are not “refugees”. Many of them were coached to say that during their status interviews. A country isn’t some Disneyland where people can enter, go on the welfare rolls wily nily. They have no connection to the Jewish character of the state either.

        I wish them well in building a prosperous successful country in Eritrean.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Abubakar Adam

      I believe that all protests are refugees, we ask tel a vive government, give freedom for these people, ask you again please let them to be free in the name of God, and in the name great country

      Reply to Comment
    4. So, K9, I expected your reply. I will have to cut and paste (actually, type by hand since I cannot cut and paste [the usual level of intelligence someone like me shows] from the UNHCR’s file copy of the Convention). You understand how we of limited intelligence are, in contradistinction to your self.

      But first, Adam.


      Article 16, Access to the Courts.

      1. A refugee shall have free access to the courts of law on the territory of all Contracting States.

      2. A refugee shall enjoy … the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the courts…

      Since a declination of asylum employs the terms of the treaty, it is a matter of law. Law is interpreted by the courts, hence hearings must be provided. This is why the High Court refused to allow unilateral deportation several years ago: the State was unilaterally asserting the power to define refugee status, which indeed fails the law. Why you and K9 are so set on avoiding this, well, I’m just too limited to understand.

      A hearing would include personal testimony (which, yes, can be faked), what objective data there might be, and, as importantly, testimony from the UNHCR as to 1) the state of persecution in the claimant’s home country and 2) plausibility that the present State is the first encountered by the claimant ABLE AND WILLING TO PROVIDE THE PROTECTIONS OFFERED BY THE CONVENTION. “Come directly from the territory” (oh no, stupid me had to cut and paste again) means directly without safe haven granted by a State. Now, clearly the government of Israel is unwilling to do so; but in law it might have to–hence the Knesset’s anger at the courts.

      I will, at the end of this small little reply of mine, address what I think hearing outcomes would be, overall.

      And no, Adam, this does not “effectively exclude any threat to life resulting from criminal Bedouin organizations with whom the migrants had freely affiliated” (I’m so sorry for cut and pasting, but my brain hurts so much…) since the refugees, if fleeing persecution at home, became effectively Stateless, which means that their persecution ends only upon arrival at sanctuary. Associating with “criminal Bedouin” in an attempt to survive does not annul asylum claim; the law regularly admits extreme distress in personal action and, as well, the “criminal Bedouin” are not a State–associating with them, or not, is material to the claim, so long as they have not engaged in “crimes against humanity” or other “serious crimes” under Article 1 section F subsections a,b.

      On to K9.

      Actually, the above answers you in full. There is a resident UNHCR commissioner in Tel-Aviv. She would be asked to testify on the status of claimant home countries and on plausible prior States, again, MEETING THE CONVENTION REQUIREMENTS. It is worth noting that a UN refugee camp in a country NOT willing adjudicate the refugee’s claim does not constitute first safe haven. All of this could/would be considered in hearings where the State of Israel presented is contrary case.

      There is, alas, another, well, uncomfortable consideration on how Israel is handling refugees. As Noam (who never, ever, cuts and pastes) has informed us, there are nearly twice as many illegal immigrants in Israel who are not molested to any great degree and certainly not arrested and shipped to the two infiltrator camps. Let us turn to Article 3 of the Convention:

      Article 3. Non-Discrimination.

      The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion, or country of origin.

      By failing to arrest, at least symbolically, these other infiltrators (who, Noam, who never cuts and pastes, says are mostly post-Soviet), the State has violated Article 3, attempting to purge itself of one class of refugees by race or country of origin–take your pick. You really shouldn’t have asked me to quote from the Convention.

      What might hearings achieve, in Israeli reality?

      Depends on the High Court. If the Court remains firm and orders the closing of the two prisons, and if the Knesset, hard to believe, acquiesces and allows hearings, I actually think the most likely outcome is the approval of some claims but perhaps not too many. The Court will have won its institutional battle and may so decide to not press further, allowing the State to purge many (and, indeed, many must be economic refugees, although there is an information decay on the truth by waiting so long to decide). Or the Court might hear appeals and decide that the UNHCR opinion, baring contrary evidence, should be controlling. All I know is that the State/Knesset’s trajectory to date has increased the absolute number of claims likely to be approved.

      Finally, K9, on use of the term “unwritten constitution.” It is common in comparative law; indeed, you have used it yourself long past when comparing Israel to the UK. Of course, the UK went through hell to get its present unwritten constitution (which has a few sort of written bits, like Magna Carta); actually, you’re beginning to go through your own turmoil over that unwriting now. I have detailed elsewhere why and how you have a constitution, and there is no need to do it again here. There is no “figment of [my] imagination” here. You are in a constitutional crisis. I know you desire Knesset Supremacy, and you have shown, over years here now, although it seems to be getting worse, a pronounced tendency to slap down anything you dislike as, well stupid and crazy. I don’t think you will have a chance to slap Justices. The High Court has staked a position, made even stronger by Knesset ineptitude. We’ll have to see how the Justices react now. I think you will not like it.

      I said in a comment, above, “instead of seeing this mass organization as an indicator of merit, the right will frame it as an attack, unwilling to give their racial opponent any emblem of value” (oh, stupid me cut and pasted again), which is exactly what you have done. I think that if the refugees stick to their nonviolent organization the Justices will not react as you want them to.

      I knew, K9, what you would say. I waited to provide the reply needed. I’m fairly certain we will be doing this again.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Dear Greg. When a convention does not apply by its very explicit letter, none of its chapters apply. According to the convention these people have no claim on refugee status in Israel. Cutting and pasting articles of a convention that does not apply makes your post longer but doesn’t really help your argument. Likewise putting sentences that do not exist in the convention in ALL CAPS does not add them to the convention and so I fail to see how that helps your argument.

        But even if we were to go down your line of reasoning you still need to consult someone who can help you with basic logic. The illegal migrants that overstayed their tourist visas in Israel are not claiming refugee status. They are not a ‘class of refugees’ and so your line of reasoning in claiming discrimination is a priori retarded.

        The UNHCR was not established as a judicial body to interpret the convention. It is not a universal supreme court that presides over the interpretation of the convention. It has no legal standing to have an opinion on the convention that would have any impact on the deliberations of an Israeli court on domestic Israeli law. If other countries sign over their immigration policy to the UNHCR that is their prerogative, not an obligation undertaken by those that ratify the convention.

        If you knew what I was going to say, then you did a piss poor job of responding.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Yadulla Ahmedov

      I suggest all these people be moved to the Gaza strip. Let UNRWA take care of them, since they already have the infrastructure in place. They are used to serving all sorts of folks claiming to be refugees. Also, the Arabs should marry off their daughters to them. The Arabs aren’t racist, are they?

      Reply to Comment
    6. DerAsylant

      “African asylum seekers: We will continue to strike until we´re sent back home”

      Reply to Comment
    7. Adam Dayton


      Article 16 says “refugee” not “asylum-seeker” and certainly not “someone whose status is in dispute.” We are talking about a people whose status is in dispute and by appealing to Article 16, you are presupposing the answer to the very point at issue.

      The term “refugee” is quite explicitly defined in Article 1. There can be no ambiguity as to the meaning of the term as used in Article 16.

      “And no, Adam, this does not “effectively exclude any threat to life resulting from criminal Bedouin organizations with whom the migrants had freely affiliated” ”

      Actually, it does, as such threats are NOT Article 1 threats.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Israel has ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Convention (and its 1967 Protocol), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The nation is therefore under an international obligation to grant refugees and asylum seekers the rights that are due to them.

      According to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to seek and enjoy asylum is recognized as a basic human right, and as a signatory to the Convention, the state of Israel should fulfil its obligation.

      Reply to Comment
      • Adam Dayton

        Sorry but the right to seek and enjoy asylum does not entail the right to seek and enjoy illegal economic migration. Israel is under no obligation to hand out asylum without just cause.

        Tell you what. 100,000 Darfurians returned to Darfur two years ago. Please provide me with the names of 10 who subsequently endured bodily harm under the terms of Article 1 of the convention.

        Reply to Comment
    9. we came here in israel us the refugees and government of israel accept us like refugees
      and today the government change everything but we say if we are the refugees in this country we have to defense ourself we will not go the prison this is what we decide the time for prison is too far way we are not Kriminal why you against us we know very well you against us because we rae the black people if is not that there thousand of the people make bad things in this country but you don’t punish them because they are not black like us and here is the thing we came out here to send our messege to the government of israel you must think what you have done if you remember many years ago you been in a same suffer like we rae today but what is necessary to know we are not came here because of jobs we came because we have problem so many years ago all isriael people been in every country but nobody been against him because

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        You came here illegally to work. That is why between 80% and 90% of those that illegally crossed the border were men of working age. Real refugees do not leave behind their families to be persecuted.

        Israel has never accepted you as refugees. If it had you wouldn’t be protesting now. The only thing Israel didn’t do is immediately throw you back into Egypt when you crossed the border. In retrospect that was a mistake.

        Reply to Comment