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Day 2 of African asylum seeker protest: What do they want?

African asylum seekers are holding their second of a three-day national protest. On Monday, thousands of asylum seekers, most of whom are employed by hotels and restaurants, went on strike and held large rallies in front of Western and African embassies.

The protesters are calling on the international community to make sure Israel respects its commitments under the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, thus ensuring that the Israeli government ceases rounding up and imprisoning asylum seekers without trial, and that it releases inmates already held under the revised anti-infiltration bill.

In a press release sent on Sunday , the protest organizers wrote:

We turn to the ambassadors and the diplomats in Israel with a desperate call for help. We know that your countries are dealing with the challenge of many refugees arriving at your gates… many of our own brothers and sisters have arrived at your countries and have received protection, shelter and refugee status.

We recognize the difficulty in accepting refugees and hosting foreigners. It’s never easy to let a stranger into your home… yet we see that the treatment of refugees in many countries is much better than the humiliation and harsh treatment we suffer in Israel […] the government of Israel sees in us a threat that needs to quickly be rid, it arrests us in the streets as if we were criminals, it locks us indefinitely, it leaves us in the margins of society without access to basic rights and it incites against us again and again…”

There are some 53,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. The vast majority of them arrived on foot from Eritrea and Sudan to flee civil wars and persecution by the Eritrean dictatorship. The asylum seekers settled in Israel’s poorest neighborhoods; at least half of the community lives in South Tel Aviv, while the others mostly live in Arad and Eilat (due to employment opportunities provided by the tourism business in those cities).

African asylum seekers prepare to march to foreign embassies across Tel Aviv, as part of a three-day general strike. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The previous Netanyahu government made it its goal to stop the influx of asylum seekers into Israel. While recognizing that it could not deport most of them, the government refused to review their requests to be recognized as refugees. Israel then installed a fence along its southern borders, and according to some reports, several IDF units even conducted raids on the Sinai Peninsula in order to turn back convoys of refugees. Many of those who already entered Israel were subjected to the original anti-infiltration bill, which allowed the government to lock up anyone who entered the county illegally without trial for three years, and in some cases, indefinitely.

It is worth noting that this policy is aimed only at the African community, despite the fact that the number of non-African illegal immigrants in Israel – most of them from former Soviet counties – is almost double that of African asylum seekers (Hebrew). Most of the post-Soviet immigrants do not face threats to their lives in their country of origin.

The government also tried to negotiate a deal with other African counties, which would agree to receive the asylum seeker community in exchange for Israeli financial aid, and perhaps other benefits or goods. So far these efforts have not succeeded.

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

The amendment to the anti-infiltration law was struck down by the High Court of Justice several months ago. Last month, the Knesset passed a new bill which allowed for authorities to imprison asylum seekers for a year. At the same time, the police increased the raids on Africans, while municipalities, including Tel Aviv’s, took harsher measures against businesses owned by asylum seekers, shutting down most of them.

Nearly the entire African community is taking part in the protest. Asylum seekers held several large marches in Tel Aviv, and at least 20,000 people took part in a huge rally at Rabin Square on Sunday. Last month, dozens of asylum seekers walked out of the Holot holding facility in the south, before they were apprehended and sent back by the police. Eritrean dissidents also broke into and disrupted a talk by the Eritrean ambassador in a kibbutz in Israel’s north.

In response to the strike, Israeli officials called for harsh measures against the asylum seekers. Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar (Likud) warned that the protest might turn violent, and stated that the asylum seekers “are not refugees.” Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote the following message on his Facebook page:

Protests and strikes won’t help. We’ve completely curbed infiltration into Israel and now we are [steadfast in our determination] to remove the illegal work infiltrators who have entered Israel. Last year we increased six-fold — to more than 2,600 – the number of infiltrators who left, and the goal this year is to increase that number even more.

The general strike and protest events are due to continue tomorrow.

African asylum seekers set to march from Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv to eight different embassies to on the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Israeli man shows his support for African asylum seekers protesting in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers protest outside the Ethiopian Embassy in Tel Aviv. (photo: Keren Manor)

African asylum seekers march to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, calling on the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers protest outside the French embassy, calling on the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv calling the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

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. Rehmat

      I suppose these protesters must be born yesterday. Several millions of native Muslims and Christian Palestinians have been begging the same from the so-called “International Community” since 1848.

      Is there anyone to tell these yesterday-born protesters that in the West, the “International Community” means those governments which support Israel.

      Let us listen to my good friend, Israeli-born Gilad Atzmon:

      “We all agree about one state – which is the only ethical, universal and viable solution. However, the universalism is very foreign to Jewish culture.”

      “The world “Shalom” doesn’t mean “peace” – in Jewish culture it mean “security of the Jewish people”.

      “The “loving your neighbor” is quite foreign to Jewish culture”.


      Reply to Comment
    2. Tony Riley

      So, Ethiopian “asylum seekers” are protesting outside their own embassy? That makes no sense – they might as well storm that building and claim asylum there.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      What these young men (and that is what 80% or so of them are) demand is to work in Israel illegally in order to send money back home. And who can blame them? Sudan has an annual GDP/capita of $1,500. Eritrea has an annual GDP/capita of $500. If they work hard they can probably save up that much every two to three months. They also wouldn’t mind setting themselves up permanently and bring over their extended families. The only problem is that they illegally crossed the border and they work here illegally. No one invited them and practically no one wants them to stay. If they are allowed to stay then the door is open to a practically infinite number of migrants from other countries. So, they will be thrown out sooner or later.

      I am especially amused in a situation where any Eritrean that doesn’t show up for military duty apparently has the ‘right’ to walk over to Israel and insist to be granted permanent residency. Had he shown up to military duty he would face no special persecution and would have no claim whatsoever.

      This is almost as amusing as the Sudanese who claim the ‘right’ to stay in Israel because by illegally infiltrating into Israel they have placed their lives in danger were they to return to Sudan. That is, their claim to refuge is based precisely on having crossed the border illegally into Israel.

      Then there is the argument that because Israel can not expel them back to their countries Israel must absorb them. That opens the door to another billion or so people that can’t be deported because either their countries are shite or their countries are in a state of hostility with Israel. In other words, Israel must sacrifice itself in order to be compliant with the policies advocated by people with such arguments.

      This is like some kind of bizarro universe where such arguments make sense to people that otherwise are capable of reason.

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      • Danny

        “The only problem is that they illegally crossed the border and they work here illegally. No one invited them and practically no one wants them to stay. If they are allowed to stay then the door is open to a practically infinite number of migrants from other countries. So, they will be thrown out sooner or later.”

        Replace the word ‘migrant’ with ‘settler’ and you might begin to understand how hypocritical you are.

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        • Kolumn9

          Oh? You mean South Tel Aviv is the historic homeland of the Eritrean an Sudanese people? Fascinating.

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          • JG

            Since whole mankind came out of Africa, Africans where indeed the first to settle the region where others claim some imaginery ghost person gave them this land.

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          • Kolumn9

            Well, in that case, they have no shortage of other places where they could find themselves a home.

            Reply to Comment
    4. “It is worth noting that this policy is aimed only at the African community, despite the fact that the number of non-African illegal immigrants in Israel – most of them from former Soviet counties – is almost double that of African asylum seekers (Hebrew). Most of the post-Soviet immigrants do not face threats to their lives in their country of origin.”

      This has turned into racial hysteria consequent of a government unwilling to hold asylum hearings because unwilling accede to High Court authority. If those hearing had begun some three plus years ago, I suspect many Africans would now be deported.

      The occupation has come home to roost: the government refuses to act on Court review, with the Knesset setting up a system of indefinite detention on a yearly cycle which obviously will not magically turn into asylum hearings. The idea is to force them to live isolated in camp until they sign papers allowing their departure. We are now told “billions” more will come unless this is done, although a greater number of present illegal post Soviets is of no concern.

      The national right has brought this on itself. They could have easily won false hearings while playing to the letter of the original Court ruling. But, if one considers carefully how Court rulings have been ignored in the past, the national right wants to provide no precedent for judicial review.

      You have a constitutional crisis.

      Reply to Comment
      • Noble

        Greg, you seem to have an unhealthy fetish with the Israeli courts as they pertain to the 1951 convention. It is clear the the convention does not apply to this refugee situation where they did not originate from a country that borders Israel. Why do you create a make believe world where it does? Constitutional crisis only exists in your wild fantasies.

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    5. Ben

      I am a very simple man and would be grateful if somebody could answer my simple questions with simple answers..
      1)Why is it that over 90% of Africans claiming to be asylum seekers/refugees in Israel are men of working age,?
      2)Why don’t Women, children and the elderly run from the dangers that the men claim exist in their mother countries.?
      3)On receiving refugee status is a man entitled to bring his wife/girlfriend from the country he has fled, if not where will he find a wife/girlfriend.?
      4)Why are their no refugee camps in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Philos

      Stand With Us and the other Israeli hasbara outfits sure have got their talking points out fast this time. Several different reports on this issue here and on other sites, and the hasbara trolls have the exact same talking points. Incredible. My tax money pays for this shit.

      I lived until recently in South-East Tel Aviv right next to an event hall that catered for the Eriterian community. If 90% of all Eriterians are men then I’d like to know how come there was an Eriterian wedding every other weekend? I loved it when the place was rented out to their community. World music, the joyful sounds of a wedding and children playing and it finished early because they all had to work the next day. Unlike Purim when some poor drunk Israeli kid was fatally knifed by a few other poor drunk Israeli kids in the stairwell of my building leaving bloody handprints on the wall. Anyway, a gender ratio of 90% is totally made up. Pharaoh couldn’t have had a harder heart than the Righteouss Higher Souls in the Knesset

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        You mean there are more than 23 women that have arrived as well? Because that is how many it would require to have a wedding every two weeks. You ask such simple questions. At least 80% of the migrants from Sudan and Eritrea are males of working age. During the large flows in 2010 and 2011 working age men (18-59) coming in from Eritrea and Sudan were 90% of the overall flow.

        Your tax dollars pay for almost no hasbara. The Israeli government spends almost nothing on PR. So, don’t feel bad. It isn’t your government spending money. It is individuals for whom Israel is important that contribute to countering the propaganda generated by organizations sponsored by European governments.

        Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          There were about three to six brides and grooms per wedding, which occurred “about” every other weekend, which means sometimes it was every weekend. Pardon me, I didn’t keep exact records for my anecdotal account. I also didn’t enquire to find out if this was the only event hall in the entire country that hosted Eriterian weddings.

          So, K9, step away from the calculator….

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          • Kolumn9

            You asked a question and I answered it. You are free to multiply my number by 6 if you want. That 80%+ of Eritreans and Sudanese that illegally crossed the border were men of working age is a fact.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Philos

      I must add, however, that politicians spewing xenophobic hatred against immigrants and blaming them for socio-economic hardship is going on throughout Europe. It could be Israel is copying best practices in Britain, France, Italy and Spain where some really hateful things are being said, and where misinformation is being spread by a compliant press. So instead of bankers, politicians and international financial institutions being responsible for the immiseration of millions, it was actually those damn foreigners! I hope that many Europeans will see past the lies, see how the politicians are stoking up the murderous nationalist ghost that was smote down in 1945, and remember that it’s their own rich and powerful who are responsible for their predicament; not the weak and poor stranger in their midst. I must say though, the press and political onslaught in Europe is truly frightening.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        You mean that Europeans aren’t an evolved superior species we must all do our best to emulate?

        The ‘murderous nationalist ghost’ was smote down when the Europeans managed to create nearly homogenous societies by massacring or expelling those not like them. They presumed at that point that they achieved a new level of evolution because the previous ethnic and religious tensions were no longer present. They could flaunt a more egalitarian and ‘tolerant’ society that its core was built on an unspoken nationalist solidarity. And then they presumed that the same society could be extended to anyone who came to join even if they didn’t share the historic or cultural background. They were wrong. Neither were they capable of absorbing the newcomers, nor were their people really terribly different from the way they were before 1945. All the masks begin to fall away.

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        • Philos

          Interesting thesis. Care to back it up with evidence? No, of course not. You don’t back anything you write here with one shred of evidence.

          I hope your tinfoil hat is secure because Leftist spies from the Communist Anti-Semitic Facist Martian Movement Against the Centre of Known Universe, Also Known As, Israel (CASFMMACKUAKA-I) is after you

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          • Kolumn9

            Interesting. Your reaction, following on the heels of your previous comment, suggests that you believe that the concurrent rise of the European right-wing parties and the support they receive from the ‘enlightened’ European population is inexplainable and is occurring ex nihilo. It certainly has nothing to do with the massive increase in immigration to Europe over the past 20 years and the pervasive European failure in integrating these immigrants.

            Reply to Comment
    8. markos

      I’m Eritrean and currently I live and grant a refugee state in Europe.In the place which I living, there are so many Jews who came during the Nazi period and fear to their life and came here .So today for Eritreans,the situation in their home back is the same thing, cos of the bloody criminal organization form and a dictatorship government in their home.One thing people don’t understand is no one is prefer to call himself a “refugee” unless he/she has no choice.If the situation in my home getting better why i do prefer to move to other.We Eritreans don’t have economic problem at all, but we have a very systematic and hidden kind of dictatorship in our land.we have about 5 million people but might be one million youngster is fled their country because of the indefinite national service.etc…

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The same thing? What are you smoking? In the place you are living there are not ‘so many Jews’ because most of them were killed by the Nazis because they were Jews. They were not persecuted because of a ‘hidden kind of dictatorship’ or ‘indefinite national service’. They were persecuted because the Nazis hated Jews and wished to see them all dead. And of those the Nazis caught the vast majority are dead. So don’t give me your BS comparisons and expect a polite hearing.

        People will call themselves refugees because they can get refugee status in Europe where the GDP/capita in many places is 100x greater than what it is in Eritrea. They will call themselves refugees because they could have a better life elsewhere. And all this is understandable, but the fact that you could be better off in Europe or Israel places no obligations on Europe or Israel to accept your presence.

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