- Posted January 6, 2014 by
NO MORE PRISON – March For Freedom Tel Aviv. (part 2).
NO MORE PRISON – March for Freedom in Tel Aviv. part 2.
On January 5th, 30,000 African refugees marched and gathered at the city hall square in Tel Aviv, took a leave off of their jobs (declaring a strike) and demonstrated, in one of the biggest demonstrations in the history of Israel. They called the government to recognize them as asylum seekers and stop the manhunt, as innocent refugees were arrested while walking the streets. Extensions of work and stay visas were postponed and the Internal Affairs administration made it difficult to get extensions.
What perhaps marked the rise of the protest, was a demonstration on December the 21st, elevating the matter from a local neighborhood issue, to more of a public concern. 2,000 refugees and hundreds of Israeli citizens shared what is called "March For Freedom" passing through Tel Aviv's main streets. They marched intensely, sometimes running, calling "freedom" and "No More Prison!" making the sign of hand cuffs with their hands. Police were puzzled with the civic disobedient and only late at night, once the march had reached the southern district, it used force to eliminate the protest. Protesters called for recognition of the rights of close to 60,000 African refugees, whom arrived in Israel between the years 2007 and 2013. The Majority of them are from Eritrea and Sudan, both which are having violent restricted regimes, where people are forced to serve in the army all their lives, under harsh conditions, experiencing torture and slavery. In Israel They serve as labor workers in cleaning, construction, restaurants and agriculture and have no civil rights as the government of Israel refuses recognizing them as asylum seekers and refugees but rather as illegal infiltrators, nor does it issue the Majority with work permits. Officially, refugees from Sudan and Eritrea receive in Israel a stay permit under a Temporary Group Protection Act. Out of 1,000 requests for a refugee status, less than 1% were recognized. In comparison, in the US, Australia and Europe 20%-40% were recognized. Due to Israeli civilian's criticism as well as political interests, the government made adjustments. It built a fence on the border between Israel and Egypt where the refugees arrive, which indeed reduced the number of refugees from 17,000 entering on 2011 to a few on 2013. Then the law for the prevention of illegal infiltration has passed, rendering these refugees as having no rights what so ever. As many of them arrived in Tel Aviv and inhabit its southern district, a special police force was created, harassing them and arresting them, sending some to the SAHARONIM prison in the southern desert of the country, without the basic right of seeing a judge before. Any cop can arrest them for allegations as not having a receipt for their bicycle or a cellular phone. The jail can populate close to 2,000 people, rendering it as more of a political tool to show concerned Israeli citizens that some measures are made to stop the flaw of these refugees, hoping the word will pass on to Africans whom wish to arrive and divert them from doing so. Many of these refugees took a long journey by foot, through Africa's Sahara desert and Egypt's Sinai Desert, where some were captured, tortured and sold by local Sinai Bedouin clans, charging them huge amounts of money to allow the passage to Israel. Rape and murder for the sake of internal organs trafficking, are part of the dangers as well. Their inhabitance of the south district in Tel Aviv, where most Israeli population is poor and weak, brought a strong resistance and a wave of racism, induced by right wing politicians, using the situation to gain political power. These neighborhoods have been ignored by the city for decades. The civic infrastructure, education system and safety conditions are underdeveloped.
The government built the prison HOLOT, and declared it as an open Facility. The inhabitant of that facility have three head counts during the day and has to sleep in it, as its gates are shoot down at night. The facility is surrounded by a desert, making it almost impossible and useless to get out. Yet on December the 15th some 200 refugees had left the open facility and marched on the road all the way to Jerusalem, hoping their voice will be heard by the government. They were all arrested in front of the Knesset (House of Representatives) and sent back to prison. A few days later on the 18th, another march of 150 personal, left HOLOT by foot heading to Jerusalem. They were accompanied by local Israeli activists whom brought them food and warm cloths but Police forces chased them and arrested them using harsh brutality. Israeli Activists are visiting the prison, bringing food and warm clothes to the detainees. Attempts offering a financial grant of $3,000 in return of leaving Israel were made, but must refugees refused, stating that no sum of money can give them any hope and protection from the hardships and danger that awaits them in their original countries. Out of 700 refugees that were returned to Africa last year, 20 have died including children. Many refugees family members, whom stayed in Africa, are being harassed by their local governments.
A governmental report sees HOLOT facility as a temporary and partial solution, as it will be populated with 11,000 personal, while there are close to 60,000 refugees. The report sees no apparent solution to the situation. The government approach was officially criticized on Sunday, January 5th, by the UNHCR (UN Committee for refugees) which issued a statement saying: "Israel’s new laws and policies do not live up to the Spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention" and that "in principle it supports establishing a residence facility for asylum seekers, but not in its current incarnation at Holot" The protest continues with demonstrations held in front of the US and other embassies in Tel Aviv. The recent protests brought the attention of Israeli mainstream public and media
Currently African Asylum Seekers continue their protest in a quite Sit-in at Levinski Park in Tel Aviv, and continue their inner discussion on their following steps.