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African migrant’s protests harsh treatment in Israel

Kush Azrael | 1/22/2014, 11:16 a.m.

African immigrants in Israel and other Western countries have staged protests against Israel’s harsh treatment of undocumented workers in Israel. Around twenty thousand African migrants marched in the city of Tel Aviv last week against Israel’s detention policy towards migrants that entered the country illegally. Protesters chanted “no more prison” outside the US embassy, and also marched on the French, Italian, British, Canadian and German embassies, seeking international support. The protests prompted a statement from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), saying that Israel’s incarceration of migrants caused “hardship and suffering” and was “not in line with” the 1951 world treaty on the treatment of refugees.

On December 10th, Israel’s parliament approved a law saying authorities could detain migrants without valid visas indefinitely.

More than 300 migrants have been arrested since the law took effect, and many more have been summoned for detention the UNHCR said.

According to Israeli authorities roughly 60,000 African migrants mostly from Eritrea and Sudan have crossed the border with Egypt since 2006.

An Israeli border fence has cut off African migrants through Egypt since 2012, but migrants who have already crossed can be sent to Holot prison which the government describes as an open prison in Israel’s southern desert. The prison is surrounded by a double fence, with barbed wire and patrolled by security guards. Inmates sleep 10 people to a room. The winters are bitter cold and the summers can get up to 100 degrees. Anyone who violates the rules is sent to Saharonim prison which is even worse.

The nearest city is Beersheba which is 50 miles away which means there is little to no options for work or recreation.

Authorities in the west liken it to a half way house. Detainees can leave but must report back three times a day, and can be held indefinitely pending the decision to go back home voluntarily, until they are deported, or until they are granted asylum.

The Africans say they are fleeing conflict and persecution and are seeking refugee status. Israel says they are only there to search from work.

At first Israel tolerated the new migrants but as numbers increased, many Israeli’s believed it threatened the Jewish character.

One right wing lawmaker, Miri Regev , even referred to the migrants as a “cancer.”

The Jews say they want to deport the Africans but international law forbids them from sending them back to their countries because their lives would be in danger.

So far to date there is not one case of an Eritrean or Sudanese who has received refugee status from Israel.

Israel grants automatic citizenship to anyone who is Jewish. But the migrants are mostly Muslim or Christian.

However more than percent of Eritrean refugee claims and nearly 70 percent of Sudanese claims in 2012 were recognized worldwide including in the United States.

Some activists have questioned Israel’s decision based on Israel’s own past. They were held in concentration camps in poor conditions and won their state as result. It was known as the Holocaust.

But some Israeli’s claim that because of this past, Israel has a special responsibility to help others in similar situations. The government however believes that African migrants don’t fit this category.