Hours after the arrests were announced on Sunday, hundreds of African migrants, most of them from Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, marched in Tel Aviv against what organizers said is racism and the mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Israel.
Planned by the Bnei Darfur (Sons of Darfur) Organization, the protest was one of if not the largest protest of its sort planned by members of the African migrant community.
Chanting “Sudanese are not cancer” and “refugee rights now,” the marchers made their way from Lewinsky Park in South Tel Aviv to the offices of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) on Hashmonaim Street. At the UNHCR offices they passed on a letter to the Israeli government, in which they asked for the Israeli government to recognize them as refugees and not migrant workers.
One of the organizers, 24-year-old Darfur native Adam Bashar, said that the protest was held to call for “the UN to take the responsibility over the refugees because the Israeli government is failing to do so."
Bashar, who has lived in Israel for seven years, said such responsibilities included ensuring that they examine asylum claims, give them refugee status and allowing them access to health care and education.
While the crowd was mainly from Darfur and north Sudan, one South Sudanese asylum seeker Andrew Akolawin watched from outside the UNHCR office, with a distraught look on his face. Akolawin said he is leaving later this week to return to South Sudan with his four kids, after five years living in Israel.
Akolawin said the problem isn’t necessarily having to return to South Sudan, rather the way the return is being carried out.
“They just pushed us out, many of us are still owed money by our employers and we are not ready to leave. We came here for shelter and this place has become something else,” Akolawin said.
A resident of the Shapira neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, 34-year-old Akolawin said he will return to South Sudan with a bitter taste in his mouth towards Israel and expressed his hope that his nascent homeland will reconsider its ties to Israel.
“It’s so hard to see it end like this. I think now, coming to Israel was the stupidest thing I ever did in my life,” he said.