African asylum seekers resumed their demonstrations on Wednesday after a few days of respite, picking up the unprecedented protests that began last week against the government's "anti-infiltration" policy.
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The leaders of the protest movement ended a week-long strike on Monday, with most of the Africans living in Israel returning to work over concerns for the workers’ livelihoods and their ability to support their families. Tens of thousands of African migrants participated in the strike.
Some 1,000 African women picked up the protest on Wednesday, along with their children, gathering Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv, calling on the government to protect their civil rights. The demonstrators marched on from the park to the United Nations Commissioner on Refugee's office, and were planning to continue their rally in the afternoon outside the United States embassy.
As last week, the protesters were demanding that Israel's Anti-Infiltration Law be nullified, that the police cease arresting migrants, that those being held under the new law be released, and that the government reexamine the requests for asylum filed by Eritreans and Sudanese. The strike drastically affected many businesses, primarily restaurants, cafes, hotels and cleaning services.
Immigration Police supervisors were roaming the park ahead of the protest, but dispersed after ordered to do so by the Israel Police.
"The Israeli government treats us like we aren’t people," the protesters wrote in a statement ahead of Wednesday's demonstration. "We live here without states, without basic rights, without hope and without the ability to support our children with honor. We are not criminals. The Israeli government summons the heads of families to the Holot detention facility in the south, separates women from their husbands, fathers from their children, and breaks families apart. The detention and arrests of asylum seekers destroys the one support we have – the support of our family and our communities."
Also Wednesday, several leaders of the recent protests were granted permission to enter the Knesset for a hearing at the Committee on Foreign Workers. They were denied entry last week because of the concern that "the entry of the infiltrators invited to the Knesset is liable to cause provocations within the parliament and even lead to violence and disturbances of order," according to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), who heads the foreign workers committee, said Wednesday's hearing was far less unruly than many of those held by other Knesset committees.
"Just a week ago, the Knesset speaker thought the representatives of the asylum seekers' protest were a threat to public order," said Rosin. "This morning, they are sitting like all the others summoned to the Knesset Committee of Foreign Workers and are preparing to say their part. You would not believe how orderly and quietly these matters are being discussed – you can't compare it to the hearings at the Interior Committee, for instance. This farce proves the extent to which the Knesset speaker's decision last week, on the order of an MK from his party, was racist and baseless. It is that, and not people who want to speak to us, that is the true danger to our democracy."
Over the past several weeks, male asylum seekers from Africa who are living in Israeli cities have been told they have 30 days to go to the Holot detention center or risk jail. Holot is considered an open detention center, but critics say the facility, which requires detainees to check in three times a day to make it difficult for them to work and imposes a nightly curfew, is no better than a prison.
Most of the estimated 53,000 African asylum seekers living in Israel come from Eritrea. The number includes about 7,500 women and thousands of children.
The asylum seekers were informed that men with families in the country would not be summoned to Holot, a male-only facility. But aid organizations say many men with families here have nonetheless been ordered to appear at the detention center. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority has pledged to annul those summonses if the men provide documents proving they are married or have children.