Over a hundred African migrants and asylum seekers were marching from Beersheba to Jerusalem on Monday morning, the day after they refused to return to the new open detention facility in the Negev.
The men made their way dozens of kilometers from the “Holot” (dunes) detention facility to the Beersheba Central Bus Station on Sunday night, where they refused to return to the facility. While some tried to make their way to Tel Aviv or elsewhere, others said they planned on going to Jerusalem, to protest their imprisonment outside the Supreme Court.
Cheska Katz, an activist for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said that the march is a continuation of the group's protests over the weekend, when she said they went on hunger strike to protest their detention. On Sunday she said they decided to leave the facility and go to the Knesset and the Supreme Court, but called off the hunger strike on the way to Beersheba in the cold.
Katz said they remained at the bus station until 3am, at which point a local activist led them to a shelter where they could spend the night.
By mid-day the march had made its way almost to the community of Lehavim on highway 40, a little over a dozen kilometers from Beersheba.
The Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority (PIBA) said Monday that they “will work according to the law in dealing with the infiltrators that don't return to the facility.”
They also blamed the activists helping the migrants for “violating the law by convincing the infiltrators not to return to the facility” and said that the migrants have decided not to go back not because of problems with the quality of the facility, but “because they want to work!”
The men who left the facility Sunday and those who left on Friday and Saturday were among the 483 detainees transferred from Saharonim prison to the “Holot” (dunes) facility over the weekend, after the new facility opened on Thursday.
On Sunday morning the Israel Prisons Service said that 54 detainees had left the facility over the weekend and had not returned, but by Sunday night it was clear the number was much higher, with activists and reporters stating that as many as 150 detainees were at the Beersheba Central Bus Station trying to make their way to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but that police wouldn't let them board buses. They said that the men had left the facility on Sunday and had walked and hitchhiked and taken public transport to Beersheba, dozens of kilometers away.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said the men had been jailed in Saharonim for between 18-24 months and they expected that they would be sent back soon, even as the new anti-infiltration law means that a detainee can be sent back only after 48 hours.
Last Tuesday, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law (1954), which allows the state to hold people who entered Israel illegally for one year in the facility, which will be open in the daytime and closed at night.
The new Entry to Israel Bill came after the Supreme Court canceled its previous version in September, saying it was disproportionate. The legislation reduces the maximum amount of time a migrant can be kept in a closed detention facility, from three years to one.
The Holot facility has room for 1,000 people and in the coming months will be expanded to house up to 3,300.
There are around 53,000 African illegal migrants in the country, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, according to government figures.
The day before the new facility became active, PIBA said that its opening would be accompanied by an increased effort to prosecute Israelis employing illegal migrants, not only with fines but with indictments as well.
On November 24, the cabinet approved a plan to deal with illegal migration that is expected to cost as much as NIS 440 million. It includes greater incentives for migrants to leave Israel, including upping the “voluntary return” stipend from$1,500 to $3,500.
It will entail the creation of 550 government positions to handle the migrant issue, including employees of the new detention facility, and positions that will be created in the Public Security Ministry, PIBA and the Economy Ministry.
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