African migrants march to demand freedom and rights in Tel Aviv
African migrants march in Tel Aviv; Greatest source of national shame in 2013. Photo by David Bachar
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David Bachar
African migrants protest their detention in Tel Aviv, Dec 28, 2013 Photo by David Bachar

Thousands of African migrants and Israelis protested in Tel Aviv Saturday night, calling on the government to release those imprisoner and to consider their asylum requests. Protesters left Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv and marched silently to Rabin Square, where they held a rally without any speakers or lighting.

Representatives of the Sudanese and Eritrean communities gave speeches, and a letter of support by Israeli author and human rights advocate Sami Michael was read aloud.

Protesters called for "freedom" and some held signs with their detention numbers, others with the word "shame," referring to the government's policy.

Pamphlets that were distributed tell the story of what the community has been through the last week and why they are marching. They describe how hundreds of asylum seekers left the Holot detention facility in the Negev last week for Jerusalem, with the message that they are not criminals, and demanding reedom and basic rights. "The police stopped us with brutality and took us back to the prison. Others were chased in the desert and then violently forced back to the prison", the pamphlets read.

"In recent days, we are witness to a new policy in which authorities are detaining refugees across the country in an arbitrary and violent manner. We are marching in solidarity with their struggle and to express our deep shock at the treatment they are receiving. We are here to demand the recognition and rights of refugees and call for the invalidation of the cruel infiltrator law."

Kinde Yitzhak, an Eritrean man and among the organizers of the protest, told Haaretz, "We are refugees seeking recognition, rights and freedom. We are asking for treatment that is in line with Israel's democratic values and our basic human rights."

Emmanuel, another man from Eritrea said, "We have a problem in Eritrea, it is a dictatorship. If we go back we will die or be put in jail. I want freedom. If the situation gets better we will go there, but the situation is really bad now, and Israel needs to let us be free."

Attorney Yifat Solel, another organizer, said "Even if the government managed to fill up the Holot and Saharonim prisonesr, 90% of the refugees will still be roaming the cities, primarily the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, whose residents have been neglected by the government and municipality for years. Instead of producing realistic solutions – allowing the refugees to work throughout the country in agriculture and construction, the Israeli government continues its policy of incitement against them."

Last Saturday a similar protest was held in the city with around 1,500 people.