Ten thousand migrants rally outside foreign embassies in Tel Aviv

Netanyahu says "no rallies or strikes will help" and stresses that "these are illegal work infiltrators" and not refugees.

African migrants protest in Tel Aviv, January 6. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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 read.
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 Aviv.
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 individual.
On Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in response to the protests: “I want to clarify that no rallies or strikes will help.”
“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 faction.
The prime minister clarified that he was not talking about refugees, who he said are treated according to international norms.
“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.
Justice 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.
African migrants and their supporters plan to continue the protests on Tuesday in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel.