African migrants hold signs during a protest in Jerusalem, Dec. 17.Ariel Schalit/AP
Over 200 African asylum-seekers who walked from an ‘open’ detention facility in Israel’s southern desert to Jerusalem to protest a new law that allows their indefinite detention were "violently" arrested on Tuesday by Israeli police and will be taken to prison, an immigrant-rights watchdog said.
“Immigration police is violently arresting refugees at the Knesset who marched to demand the right to liberty,” the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an Israeli group focused on the rights of refugees and undocumented migrants, said on its Twitter account.
HRM added the African migrants, who it reported were crying and calling for “freedom” and “no more prison,” will now spend up to three months in prison, before being sent back to indefinite detention in an ‘open’ center.
Amnesty International Israel also reported on its Twitter account that refugees were being loaded onto buses by Israeli authorities.
The new Israeli law targets what it calls “Infiltrators,” a term used for the African migrants. It calls for Africans living illegally in Israeli cities to be moved to so-called ‘open’ detention centers.
Supporters of the law see African migrants as illegal job-seekers, but critics say they are asylum-seekers fleeing persecution and war in their home countries.
The law allows for the open-ended detention of the asylum-seekers in those facilities pending resolution of their asylum requests, implementation of deportation orders, or voluntary repatriation.
The detention centers are "open" because detainees are allowed to leave during the day but must return at night and for roll calls throughout the day. If a detainee is absent from detention center for more than 48 hours, they can be arrested and taken to a closed prison.
The law also says that any migrants caught illegally crossing into Israel can be imprisoned in a closed prison for up to one year. Most of the estimated 50,000 African migrants living in Israel are from Sudan and Eritrea.
African migrants on Sunday left the Holot open detention facility and began walking north, during some of the worst winter weather for years.
They wanted to ask Israel's government to recognize them as refugees, and to give them protected status instead of detaining and deporting them.
Israel, which describes itself as a Jewish nation, is open to Jewish immigration from anywhere in the world. But African migrants have been called a 'demographic threat' by some who say the refugees could tarnish the Jewish character of the state.
By Tuesday morning, the group of 150 Sudanese refugees reached Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office and then the Knesset, or parliament, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Once there, they were joined by dozens of other African asylum-seekers who left the Holot facility later and traveled by bus to Jerusalem, where the groups carried out a peaceful protest asking for asylum, according to reports at the scene.
Haaretz reported that only one-quarter of the migrants detained at Holot returned Monday night when 345 of the 484 detainees refused to check in, and went to Jerusalem to join the protest.