After Fleeing Detention, African Migrants March Toward Jerusalem

Some 150 migrants leave facility in southern Israel; declare hunger strike.

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Some 150 African migrants who left the new open detention facility in southern Israel Sunday made it to Be'er Sheva overnight, and began marching toward Jerusalem Monday morning, where they plan on setting up a protest tent outside the Knesset.

The migrants left the Holot facility, which is open during the day, on Sunday morning, and walked 60 km – about six hours – to Be'er Sheva in protest of their detention.

Once at the Be'er Sheva central bus station, they declared a hunger strike and refused to return to the facility. Many were wearing only light clothes and sandals, despite the cold winter weather.

Two of the marchers collapsed on the way, due to fatigue and the bitter cold. They received medical treatment at Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva. One of the migrants at the bus station was also taken to the hospital and treated for the effects of the cold.

They marched out of the city in a large group on their way to the capital. A police car accompanied them on their march, as did officials from the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

The Holot facility was officially opened three days ago and is capable of holding some 3,300 people. Detainees are free to leave it during the day, but are required to be present at the center three times a day for a head count – morning, afternoon and evening. The 500 migrants who have been moved there thus far are not allowed out from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. and are barred from working.

While the migrants are required to report back to the detention facility, police may not arrest them until 48 hours have passed.

One of the migrants told Haaretz that all of the residents at the new facility have been on hunger strike for two days, since the day after being transferred there from Saharonim. "We have been in prison for two years. On Friday they took us from one prison to another. We have no basic human rights. We are also human beings" he told Haaretz. "We respect Israeli law but we are not criminals and we will not allow ourselves to be jailed for no reason."

On Sunday evening, a number of store owners at the Be'er Sheva bus station offered the migrants food, but they refused.

The marchers describe their journey as a protest march and want to speak with Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar when they arrive in Jerusalem, because "he is the one who put us in jail." A number of the illegal migrants said they had come from the Darfur region in Sudan and it was impossible for them to return to their homeland. "If I return to Sudan they will either kill me or put me in prison for decades. We are refugees and are seeking asylum in Israel, and they should not relate to us as murderers," said one marcher.

"We have decided to take action and march of our own will," said another refugee, Mubarak Ali Mohammed. "We have been on a hunger strike for three days and we will continue to fight for our freedom. We came from a place of war, bloodshed and violence, and we cannot go back. We are not bad people and we will not harm Israel," he said.

A few of the migrants said they do not know anyone in Israel and that is why they decided to join forces to fight for their human rights, which they say the state has taken away from them. Some of them held signs saying: "We were strangers in the Land of Egypt," and "We are marching for freedom and human rights."

Another 54 migrants who left the facility on Saturday arrived at the central bus station by bus, and their whereabouts are unknown.

MK Miri Regev (Likud), the chairwoman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, released a statement in response to the migrants march to Jerusalem "in light of the media interest" in the migrants' "pilgrimage" to Jerusalem.

"The infiltrators are breaking the new law that passed a week ago. The law defines the exact conduct [required], including the infiltrators' entry to and exit from the facility. They are supposed to visit the facility three times a day, so their days-long march is in fact a violation of the law. Therefore, I hope that when they reach Jerusalem, the police will be waiting for them and take them directly to a closed facility for having violated the law. Continued contempt for the law sends a serious message of damaging the rule of law," said Regev.

African migrants walk on a road after leaving the Holot detention facility, Dec 15, 2013Credit: Reuters

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