More than 1,000 African migrant detainees continued to camp out near the Egyptian border on Saturday night, a day after they marched out of the Holot Detention Facility and tried to reach the frontier to protest their detention in Israel.
Organizers have said they wanted to cross into Sinai, to ask United Nations officials there to help their cause, despite the fact that many African migrants have been abused and held for ransom in Egypt, and the country returns migrants to Eritrea and Sudan.
On Friday, the IDF stopped protesters about 300 meters from the border – a closed military zone. They are currently camped out under shade near the border, and refuse to return to Holot.
Sivan Weizman, spokeswoman for the Prisons Service, which runs Holot, said on Friday that the protesters had until 10 p.m. that day to return to the facility on their own and if they did not, police could arrest them and move them to the non-open detention facilities. She added that the Prisons Service has not engaged the protesters and that the moment they left the facility and refused to return it became a police and immigration authorities issue.
Southern District police said on Saturday night that if a decision was made to arrest the migrants it would be with the cooperation of the immigration authorities and the Prisons Service.
The protest is the latest in a series of demonstrations held by detainees at the facility, home to some 2,300 migrants.
For over a week detainees have refused to sign in or sign out when coming or going from the facility and have held daily protests inside Holot.
“Holot is illegal because it violates our rights to liberty, freedom and to life, which are considered a fundamental human right,” organizers of the protest said in a press release issued on Friday.
“We decided to leave Holot and go to the Israel-Egypt border, no more tolerance to stay in prison, and we call the international community to take care of us,” the statement continued.
They demanded an improvement to the medical system at Holot, releasing detainees who have been in prison for two years or more, for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to handle their asylum requests, an end to the resettlement of migrants in third countries, and the release of protest organizers arrested in recent weeks.
Habtom, an Eritrean who arrived in Israel six years ago and was jailed in Holot six months ago, said that as of now, they have no intention of returning. “We are now camping out here near the border and we aren’t returning.
We are waiting for someone from the international [community] to come and help our situation. We aren’t coming back until we get answers,” he said.
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), the head of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, said of the protest on Saturday, “The government’s draconian policy of making the asylum-seekers desperate until they decide to leave ‘voluntarily’ has worked better than they expected.”
She called on the government to find a “humane and organized solution” to the migrant issue.