Some 25,000 people participated in a rally against the deportation African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Rabin on Saturday evening. The demonstrators carried signs and chanted slogans such as “There is no difference between our blood and their blood because we are all human beings.”
The deportations to Rwanda and Uganda were scheduled to begin in a week’s time, on April 1, but the High Court of Justice has suspended them until it rules on a petition it is hearing against expelling the asylum seekers. The government is scheduled to file its response to the petition on Monday.
The rally was organized by Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers along with Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the refugees and migrants live, and various aid organizations. “You can stand with the veteran residents of south Tel Aviv and also with the asylum seekers,” wrote the organizers on the event’s Facebook page.
“We will not accept incitement and setting one community against the other. Deportation of people to an uncertain future will not improve the situation in the neighborhoods and we will not allow it to be done in our names,” they wrote.
Musicians Hemi Rodner, Alma Zohar and Yehuda Keisar, community leader Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz and representatives of various youth movements participated in the rally.
Asaf Rajuan, a lawyer and social worker who lives in Tel Aviv, has been on a hunger strike for 21 days in protest of the deportations. “The time has come for the public to know that there are alternatives to deportation, and they are to disperse the asylum seekers all over the country instead of ‘throwing’ them into south Tel Aviv, which has become the backyard of the country,” he said.
Until recently Rajuan served as the head of the Bat Yam municipal economic corporation. “I took a break from the easy life I had and decided to go on a hunger strike to demand the immediate rehabilitation of south Tel Aviv,” he said.
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On Thursday, Haaretz reported that contrary to the government’s announcement two months ago that asylum seekers above Israeli retirement age of 67 would be exempted from deportation, men above that age have received notices of impending expulsion and could face indefinite imprisonment if they refuse to leave the country.
The Holot detention facility in the Negev desert was closed down two weeks ago; those held there were released in preparation for the new deportation program. Two hundred eighty were transferred to nearby Saharonim Prison and those released were told they could not live in seven cities in Israel. The asylum requests of Eritreans now held in Saharonim will be reexamined in light of a recent court ruling that desertion from the Eritrean military may be considered as justification for receiving asylum and residency in Israel.