Around 5,000 African migrants and their supporters marched through central Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest government policy toward asylum-seekers.
It was planned as a silent, candle-lit march, within a half hour the crowd was cheering and chanting “Freedom!” and “No more prisons” as it weaved its way down major thoroughfares such and Allenby and Rothschild streets.
A similar protest in the city last Saturday also drew a few thousand participants.
Unlike most protests on behalf of African migrants in Tel Aviv in recent years, Saturday’s crowd mostly consisted of asylum-seekers, who appeared to be in charge and marching to their own beat.
Israeli activists dominated previous protests.
There were also two “freedom marches” in the past couple of weeks, in which migrants marched from the new open detention facility in the South to Beersheba and Jerusalem, where they demanded Israel hear their asylum claims.
Saturday night’s march set out from Lewinsky Park near the central bus station and made its way to Rabin Square, where a rally was held. At Lewinsky Park, an 18-year-old Eritrean named Johnny, who said he fled his country to avoid the military draft, told The Jerusalem Post he was marching “to make a call for freedom, to say that we need equal rights.”
Holding a sign that said “We shall overcome,” Johnny described how he and his fellow Eritrean migrants lack visas and legal status in Israel, and live in limbo without the ability to legally support themselves.
The recent protests are a response to Israel’s opening of Holot, the new open detention facility, and implementation of the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law that allows Israel to jail without charge people who entered the country illegally, even if they claim asylum.
Over the past two weeks, the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority has said it will begin enhanced enforcement of labor laws against employing people who are in the country illegally, and will arrest and jail more migrants. Over the past week alone, PIBA issued three statements announcing the arrests of dozens of Africans in Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
Standing at Lewinsky Park before marching northward through Tel Aviv, an Eritrean named Emanuel said migrants believed that a silent march would send a stronger message this time, and that the candles would be held high because “we are now living in darkness here.”