Thousands of African women and children seeking asylum in Israel staged a protest march in Tel Aviv Wednesday against the Jewish state’s immigration policies, an AFP correspondent said.
“We are refugees,” women chanted, many of them carrying infants or pushing prams along the streets of this coastal city where most of them live.
Holding placards reading “We need freedom” and “stop racism!” they marched first to the headquarters of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, then on to the US embassy.
Last week, the UNHCR warned that Israel could be in breach of international law with new legislation that allows for the potentially indefinite detention of asylum-seekers.
“We are seeking asylum. We’re not criminals,” said an Eritrean woman who only gave her name as Zabib, saying she hoped the government would grant them refugee status.
“Our kids have no legal documents so they don’t have any basic rights. We have no kind of support for us and the kids… we’re in survival mode,” she told AFP.
Last week, tens of thousands of Africans held mass demonstrations for four straight days, gathering outside foreign embassies and even outside the Knesset, or parliament, in Jerusalem.
In December, Israel approved a law allowing illegal immigrants to be detained for up to a year without trial, in the latest of a series of measures aimed at cracking down on immigration.
The government has also opened a sprawling detention facility in the Negev desert and has stepped up moves to expel illegal immigrants, saying they pose a threat to the state’s Jewish character.
According to UN figures, there are currently some 53,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Israel. Most of them entered via the desert border with Egypt, before the Jewish state completed construction of a massive hi-tech barrier there late last year.
Some 36,000 come from Eritrea, whose regime repeatedly has been accused of widespread human rights abuses by the international community.
Another 14,000 are from conflict-torn Sudan.