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Middle east

Thousands of African migrants protest in Israel

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-05

Thousands of African migrants gathered in Tel Aviv’s main square on Sunday to protest against a controversial new law allowing Israel to detain people without valid visas indefinitely.

Many of the demonstrators held banners demanding the release of fellow migrants who were jailed for being in the country illegally. Human rights groups say more than 300 people have been arrested since Israel’s parliament passed the law three weeks ago.

Some 60,000 migrants, largely from Eritrea and Sudan, have crossed into Israel across a once-porous border with Egypt since 2006, Israeli authorities say.

Many live in poor areas of Tel Aviv and say they are seeking asylum in the country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he views the presence of many African migrants as a threat to Israel’s social fabric and his government.

An Israeli border fence has since cut off the influx from Egypt, but migrants who have already crossed can be sent to what the government describes as an open prison in Israel’s southern desert.

The facility is similar to a half-way house, in which detainees can leave during the day but must report back by nightfall. Migrants can be held there indefinitely pending voluntary repatriation, implementation of deportation orders or the resolution of their asylum requests.

Organisers handed out leaflets demanding that Israel “release all refugees from prison and stop this detention policy”. Rights groups have appealed the new law.

Police said the protesters had a licence for a three-day demonstration at the site, and there was no reported violence or arrests at the scene. A police source estimated the number of protesters at 10,000.

Hotline for Migrant Workers, an organisation that advocates for the Africans, accuses Israel of pressuring hundreds in its jails to accept payouts and leave. More than a dozen left earlier this year for Eritrea to win release from prison.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-05

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