Some 300 Sudanese protested on Sunday outside Tel Aviv's Kirya government headquarters against plans to imprison African asylum-seekers in a Negev detention facility. They called on the state to examine their individual requests for recognition as refugees and grant them their rights and protection. The refugees also complained that the United Nations does not do enough to safeguard them.
The protesters chanted "We are refugees, not infiltrators" - the latter being the government's term for them - and "We are human beings." They held aloft banners in Hebrew and English proclaiming "We are not criminals - why are you putting us in prison?" Other signs read "We came to ask for protection, not to look for work," "We did not chose to be refugees - Israel and the UN have failed to protect us," and "Where are Jewish ethics?"
"We want Israelis to know that the Sudanese are not coming here for work. We are refugees," said Suaba Osman from the Darfur region in Sudan, clutching a refugee's ID card issued in Egypt. Osman entered Israel five years ago and has lived here since with her husband and son. "I'm holding this so that everyone will know that we are refugees," she said.
"I came to Israel five years ago. Since then there's been no change in our situation," said Jacob Bari, 25, from the Sons of Darfur organization. "Our status is unclear - are we refugees or not? According to the international convention we are refugees because we escaped a war. There is still a war in Darfur. We escaped that war and need protection. We are refugees, but the state does not recognize us as refugees."
Bari, one of the demonstration's organizers, said he would like to meet with Interior Minister Eli Yishai. "The Interior Ministry made its decision and said it wants to deport us. We ask: To where does it want to deport us? Back to the war? That's against the international convention."
About the detention facility in the Negev, Bari said: "Our families are in refugee camps. To put us in a facility is not humane. It's the end of the world for us."
On Thursday the Jerusalem District Court accepted the request by aid organizations to temporarily ban the arrest of asylum-seekers from Sudan. The aid groups turned to the court following Yishai's order to begin incarcerating Sudanese citizens living in Israel from the middle of this month. The Interior Ministry has two weeks to respond to the court's decision.