More than 10,000 African asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally through Egypt staged a protest in Tel Aviv on Sunday, denouncing the Jewish state's long-term detention of illegal immigrants.
Demonstrators sharply criticised the authorities' refusal to give them refugee status and their detention of several hundred asylum seekers.
"We are all refugees" and "yes to freedom, no to prison!" they chanted in English, with Israeli rights activists also joining the march.
"We have fled persecution, dictatorships, civil wars and genocides," Dawud, an Eritrean asylum-seeker at the protest, told AFP.
"The Israeli government must study our requests for asylum and treat us like human beings," Dawud said, without giving his full name.
He added the demonstrators intended to head for the UN refugee agency's Tel Aviv office and foreign embassies in the coastal city in further rallies on Monday.
"Instead of considering us refugees, Israel treats us like criminals," Dawud said.
Many illegal immigrants, who are often employed in menial jobs in restaurants and hotels, also launched a three-day strike in several Israeli cities.
Under legislation passed on December 10, authorities can detain illegal immigrants entering the country for up to a year without trial.
It was the latest in a string of measures aimed at cracking down on close to 60,000 illegal immigrants from Africa, whom Israel says pose a threat to the state's Jewish character.
The new law amends earlier legislation which allowed for immigrants to be detained without trial for up to three years, but which was overturned by the Supreme Court in September.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and other groups have already filed a petition against the new law.
Last year, Israel launched a crackdown on illegal African immigrants, rounding up and deporting 3,920, and building a high-tech fence along the border with Egypt.
On November 24, the cabinet approved measures aimed at tackling illegal immigration, including a crackdown on employers and financial incentives for those who agree to return to their country of origin.
It has also invested in the construction of a sprawling detention facility for illegals arriving in Israel and for immigrants already in the country who "disturb the public order," the premier's office said.
The facility, run by the prisons services, is open during the day but locked at night, and will initially house up to 3,300 people, Haaretz newspaper reported, adding its capacity could be expanded to hold up to 11,000.
Date created : 2014-01-05