More than 20,000 Israelis gathered alongside African refugees in Tel Aviv, last night (Saturday, February 24) to protest the government’s plans to deport asylum seekers and to indefinitely imprison those who refuse to leave the country. The protest took place in south Tel Aviv, where most of the city’s asylum seekers reside.
A number of those slated for deportation addressed the crowd as did some of the area’s Israeli residents.
Protesters carried Hadash signs reading: “No to deportation” and “Refugees and residents [of south Tel Aviv] refuse to be enemies.” Togod Omer Adam, an asylum seeker from Sudan, spoke at the protest and said: “We did not choose to come here to south Tel Aviv. When people arrived at the border [with Israel from Sinai] they gave you a one-way ticket to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv.” He also said that he understands the difficult situation that has been created in south Tel Aviv, saying “we are all victims in this story – the more senior Israeli residents and we, the asylum seekers. We all live here, and have for so long, they have tried to make us afraid of one another.”
On Saturday, police detained for questioning two suspects who issued threats to harm protesters against the expulsion of refugees in Tel Aviv. The two had posted inflammatory messages on Facebook and police confiscated a pistol from one of them who wrote “I am armed.”
On Tuesday night, February 20, all asylum seekers being held at the Holot detention center in the south of the country began a hunger strike to protest their anticipated deportation or jailing. Earlier in the day, seven Eritreans who were being held at Holot were summoned for pre-deportation hearings. After they refused to leave the country for either Eritrea or Rwanda, they were immediately transported to Saharonim Prison, apparently due to the authorities’ fear that, otherwise, they would attempt to flee. In line with new rules issued by the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, they will be held at Saharonim indefinitely unless they agree to be deported.
Hundreds of asylum seekers marched from Holot to Saharonim on Thursday in protest of the government’s policy. They carried signs reading “Stop The Deportation,” “We Are Not Criminals” and “Set Our Brothers Free.” The protesters demanded the release of those who have already been arrested for refusing to leave Israel.