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African migrants protest Israeli detention policy

© AFP

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-06

Thousands of African migrants protested outside Western embassies in Tel Aviv on Monday to demand better treatment from the Israeli government, specifically the state’s detention without trial of hundreds of asylum seekers.

Protesters marched to the US, French, Canadian, Italian, British, and German embassies to hand over letters against a law authorising the detention of illegal immigrants entering Israel for up to a year without trial.

African asylum seekers, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, called for help in the face of Israel's refusal to give them refugee status and its detention without trial of hundreds of asylum seekers.

"No more prison," chanted the crowd in front of the US embassy as African migrants began the second day of a three-day nationwide strike.

The demonstrators marched past the Israeli office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, chanting "Wake up UN". The UNHCR has not been responsible for determining the refugee status of asylum seekers in Israel since 2009, when that authority was transferred to the interior ministry.

UNHCR official Sharon Harel said Israel had not approved a single request for refugee status in all of last year, although an interior ministry spokeswoman told AFP it had granted 10.

"Infiltrators"

Harel said the asylum seekers already in Israel -- 14,000 from Eritrea and 36,000 from Sudan -- received collective protection on arrival and were not returned to their countries of origin.

But the UNHCR condemned Israel for not affording "those with protection needs" with "access to refugee status determination," defining them as "infiltrators" without "taking into account the reasons why they had to flee from their country of origin."

The interior ministry rejected the UN criticism, insisting "all the requests for asylum are examined by the population and immigration authority."

"Any foreign national who has requested political asylum in Israel is protected from expulsion until the examination of their request has been completed", it said.

The right-leaning government has made removal of African migrants who slipped across the desert border with Egypt before the completion of a high-tech barrier last year a priority.

It says their presence in Israel threatens its Jewish character.

Tens of thousands of African migrants held a mass rally in central Tel Aviv on Sunday to mark the launch of a three-day nationwide strike.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

Date created : 2014-01-06

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