African migrants protest in Tel Aviv, January 6..
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
For the second day in a row, African migrants marched by the thousands in Tel
Aviv outside foreign embassies and the headquarters of the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees.
The rallies were part of a three-day “national
strike” that African migrants in Israel declared on Sunday. They said the
purpose of the strike was to protest the detention of asylum-seekers under the
anti-infiltration amendment and the failure and refusal of the government to
examine their asylum claims.
Outside the US embassy on the Tel Aviv beach
front, a crowd of around 5,000 African migrants gathered and chanted “freedom”
and “no more refugees,” as they did at a rally at Rabin Square the day before
that drew around 15,000-20,000 people.
During the rally at the US
embassy, an Eritrean migrant named Filmon read from a speech saying that “a
range of unprecedented policy changes has caused us to take drastic measures to
display our discomfort, frustration and fear.”
In the speech, addressed
to “respected representatives of the international community,” Filmon read that
“panic has spread among the asylum- seekers community in Israel” as the
government has stepped up enforcement against illegal migrants. “We can no
longer be quiet about Israel’s humiliation of the African refugee community,” he
At the same time as the rally outside the American embassy, smaller
rallies took place outside the embassies of France and the UK, as well as the
Ethiopian embassy in Ramat Gan.
While the rally on the beach front began
with only a few hundred people, after around an hour it had grown into the
thousands as more protesters streamed in from south Tel Aviv and from the
demonstrations earlier in the day outside the UNHCR office in Tel
Protesters vowed to continue the protests for as long as it took to
meet their demands, which focused on three key issues: Canceling the
anti-infiltration amendment and the jailing of migrants, giving them social
rights and welfare benefits, and checking the asylum claims of each
On Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in response
to the protests: “I want to clarify that no rallies or strikes will
“Just as we succeeded in completely blocking illegal infiltration
of our borders, we are determined to remove those who managed to enter before we
closed the border,” he said at a meeting of the Likud Beytenu
The prime minister clarified that he was not talking about
refugees, who he said are treated according to international
“These are illegal work infiltrators, and we are determined to
fully bring them to justice,” he said. Netanyahu said that in 2013, the
government deported 2,600 illegal migrants, six times as many as in 2012, and
that he plans to remove even more in 2014.
On Monday evening, the Foreign
Ministry issued a statement saying “the situation in Israel is much more complex
than other developed countries.” For instance, it said, Israel is the only
developed country with a land border with Africa, which makes it comparatively
more accessible for those who wish to enter.
It said that “statements on
migrant issues that fail to take into account all of the above-mentioned
elements are unhelpful and do not contribute to clarify the complex issue, which
the Government of Israel is handling with the responsibility and seriousness
that this situation commands.”
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for
Legislation rejected a Meretz bill meant to regulate migrants’ status by making
the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees law.
Ministry representatives said that deciding who is a migrant or not is a
diplomatic matter, not a legislative one, and pointed out that Israel is already
committed to the Refugee Convention.
Any person has a right to submit a
request to be recognized as a refugee, even though the Refugee Convention is not
anchored in law, the representatives added.
“This government chooses time
and again not to make choices. Instead of instituting a clear policy, the
refuge-seekers will continue to shout ‘freedom’ on the streets,” MK Nitzan
Horowitz (Meretz) said after the ministerial vote.
On Sunday night, the
UNHCR criticized Israel’s policy towards African migrants, calling on the
government to stop arresting them and to examine asylum requests.
migrants and their supporters plan to continue the protests on Tuesday in Tel
Aviv and elsewhere in Israel.