Eritrean migrants protest Negev detention center 370.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
In advance of a possible wave of impending arrests by the authorities, around a
hundred Eritrean migrants rallied outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in
Tel Aviv on Thursday. They protested the construction of a Negev detention
facility for African migrants, and Israel’s refusal to give them refugee
Held under the slogan “Israel, don’t put us in prison, again,”
the rally came after continued vows by officials to begin mass arrests of
Sudanese and Eritrean migrants once construction of the detention facilities in
the Negev is complete.
In August, Interior Minister Eli Yishai promised
to begin the arrests on October 15, but last week his ministry backtracked,
saying the facilities were not yet ready.
An official close to Yishai
said the decision had nothing to do with a Jerusalem District Court order
earlier in the day prohibiting the arrests.
“We have escaped the ‘prison’
of Eritrean dictatorship.
We did not think that we would end in another
prison in the democratic State of Israel,” organizers said in a press release
issued earlier this week.
Outside the Defense Ministry on Thursday, the
crowd chanted “Eli Yishai remember your history,” (a reference to his racism)
and demanded Israel give them refugee status and allow them to legally work and
live in the country.
Otherwise they face the threat of returning to
Eritrea, a dictatorship where many of them could potentially face persecution
Earlier this week the Prisons Service confirmed that for two
days last week around 400-500 Eritrean migrants sent back their food at
Saharonim prison, to protest against the ‘Infiltrators Law.’ This is an
amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law of 1954, effective since June,
that allows the state to jail without trial – for up to three years – anyone who
has entered the country illegally.
Activists and migrants in Tel Aviv
said this week however that the protest had begun on October 8 and lasted
several days, eventually involving around 1,000 detainees at
Activists said the strike was started by a group of a few
dozen Eritrean women – irate that they stood to be imprisoned in Israel for
three years, and fearful they could be returned to Egypt, where abuse of African
migrants at the hands of Beduin smugglers is widely reported.
Eritrean man, 30-yearold Emmanuel Amaneh, described a rock-and-a-hardplace
situation for Eritreans in Israel, saying, “Our lives are very hard here, but we
can’t go back there and also we don’t want to go to prison here
In Israel for six years, Amaneh also expressed some fear that
his wife, two kids and a brother, all of whom live in Israel, could end up in an
Israeli prison under the infiltrators law.
In a larger sense, the protest
was a continuation of ongoing rallies held by Eritrean migrants over the past
few years, during which they’ve called for refugee status, and the legal ability
to work in the country.
Making up the majority of the more than 60,000
African migrants in Israel, the Eritreans call on Israel to follow the lead of
other Western countries in granting them asylum status, thus ending what they
characterize as racist antimigrant statements on the part of
On Monday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu touted his work
in stopping the influx of migrants across the southern border. He emphasized the
construction of the Egypt border fence as well as a string of recent antimigrant
Also Monday, the Knesset Interior Committee passed – on its
first and second reading – a bill to limit the amount of money migrants can send
back home. The bill, which still requires approval by the Knesset plenum to go
into effect, will serve as a deterrent to further migrants looking to come to
Israel to work, members of the committee said.