TA: Eritreans protest Negev detention facility

Rallying under slogan “Israel, don’t put us in prison, again”, migrants protest facility meant to house thousands of Africans.

Eritrean migrants protest Negev detention center 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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 status.
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 upon return.
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 Saharonim.
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.
One 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 either.”
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 politicians.
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 legislation.
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.