About 1,000 African migrants have marched out of an Israeli detention centre in protest at their treatment and are camped out by the border after Israel’s army prevented them from crossing into Egypt, migrant activists said on Sunday.
The Eritrean and Sudanese migrants left the open detention facility on Friday, saying Israel has not processed their claims for asylum. The migrants are imploring the UN to help resettle them elsewhere.
“We cannot continue living in a cage in the desert, with no release date and no judicial review,” migrant activists said in a statement.
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The army said the migrants approached an area that is restricted for security reasons and were not allowed to proceed.
About 50,000 Africans have poured into Israel in recent years from Egypt. The Africans say they are fleeing persecution and danger. Israel says many are looking for employment.
Some believe Israel’s history as a refuge for Holocaust survivors compels it to help the downtrodden. Others fear taking in so many Africans will threaten the country’s Jewish character.
Israel has struggled with how to deal with the African migrants. It has built a fence along its 220-kilometre border with Egypt, offered cash to migrants to return home, reached out to other countries to take them in and in many cases detained them.
Some 2,300 people are held at the open Holot detention centre in a remote desert location. They can come and go, but they must sign in several times a day and sleep there, making it impossible for them to stray far from the remote facility or hold jobs. Those who violate the rules, or reject what Israel calls “invitations” to report there, can be sent to a nearby prison.
Israel does not deport the migrants because they could face danger in their conflict-ridden homelands. But critics charge that Israel’s policies make migrants feel coerced to leave. They also accuse Israel of dragging its feet on reviewing the migrants’ claims for refugee status.