African Migrants temporarily halt strike, go back to work

African asylum committee: Following Sharon’s death, we must show our respect; Community vows to ‘continue struggle’ through awareness campaigns.

African migrants at Lewinsky Park in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2014. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
African migrants at Lewinsky Park in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2014.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Following a weeklong strike and massive protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the African migrant strike came to a temporary close on Monday, according to a statement issued by the Committee of African Asylum Seekers in Israel.
“Over the next few days, we decided to go back to our regular activities. Following the death of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, we must show our respect for the Israeli society. This leader of Israel died and we must respect him by keeping our issue somewhat quiet while the Israeli people, and the world, mourn his death,” the statement read.
The decision to put the strike on hold was primarily economic, as worker’s feared for their jobs and their livelihood and also wanted to give the migrant community a chance to reorganize and figure out the next move in their struggle.
“We told people to go back to work as well because it has been a tough week, not just for us but also for the employers, and we need our salaries,” an Eritrean activist, Habton, told The Jerusalem Post.
While the strike, taking place in Levinsky park, was suspended, Habton said the African community was “continuing the struggle” through its campaigns to raise awareness, meeting individually with government officials and assisting members of the African community in filling out the necessary paperwork to officially file for asylum.
The statement called upon the Israeli government to meet three basic demands.
“End the detention policy – cancel the new Prevention of Infiltration law – end all arrests of asylum seekers and release asylum seekers from detention.
“Assess our asylum request in a fair and transparent manner in a way that meets international standards.
“Respect our human rights including social services like health and welfare.”
According to the Interior Ministry there are currently some 53,000 “infiltrators” in Israel, while only 1,800 have filed for asylum – an indication that the infiltrators are not true refugees, but rather “economic migrants.”
Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said the reason for these figures is that the Interior Ministry has not provided a meaningful opportunity for the migrant community to request asylum.
According to Rozen, over a year ago the hotline assisted Sudanese migrants in prison facilities file a total of 320 requests for asylum and has yet to receive a single response, while every asylum request the hotline assisted in filing for Eritrean refugees has been rejected by the Interior Ministry.
“The protests were run by refugees and all the demands were presented by them and defined by them; but we see how the Interior Minister [Gideon Sa’ar] checks asylum requests, and I hope their demands will not be in vain,” said Rozen.
The protests have been able to raise awareness for the African migrants’ struggle, primarily among employers, who until now had taken the African workforce for granted. “Thank you to all of the employers who worked so hard to promote our human rights as refugees over the past two weeks. Many employers from the hotels, restaurants and other businesses have publicly come out in support of refugees and have called on the Israeli government to respect our rights,” the committee statement read.
Though no date has been officially set, the African migrant community plans to re-launch the protests later this week with a march of women and children.