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African Migrants Protest Israel's Detention Policy

December 17, 2013 By:
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Eritrean refugees gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem for an earlier demonstration against the deportation of refugees from Israel, Jun. 9, 2013. Photo by Yonatan Sindel via JTA.

JERUSALEM — Hundreds of African migrants outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem protested the Israeli government’s policy of detaining asylum seekers.

The protesters, holding signs reading “I didn’t choose to be a refugee,” “We are in danger, not dangerous” and “You were strangers in the land of Egypt,” launched their demonstration on Dec. 17 after leaving a detention facility a day earlier.

About 150 of the migrants had spent the night before at Kibbutz Nachshon near Jerusalem, where they were provided with food and clothing after walking from the Holot detention facility in the Negev Desert to Beersheva.

Volunteers had brought them to the kibbutz after immigration officials refused to allow the migrants to board buses for Jerusalem. They walked from the kibbutz to Jerusalem on Dec. 17.

Police and government officials have threatened to arrest the protesters if they cause disturbances.

The Holot residence is called an “open facility,” with detainees free to leave during the day but with mandatory check-in at night. They are not allowed to hold jobs.

Nearly 350 of the facility’s 484 residents, who were transferred there late last week, have not returned to the detention center in recent days, Haaretz reported.

Some of the protesters have been on a hunger strike since being brought to Holot.

The Knesset last week approved an amendment to the Migrant Law to allow Israeli officials to hold African migrants in prison for up to a year without trial and in the open detention facility indefinitely.

Israel’s Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional the law allowing officials to hold migrants without trial for three years.

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