20,000 Israelis Protest Deportation of African Asylum Seekers

Israelis and refugees come together in Tel Aviv to demonstrate against the government policy jailing those who refuse to leave the country

Israelis and African asylum seekers protest against deportations and imprisonment, Tel Aviv, February 24, 2108.
Meged Gozani

Around 20,000 Israelis gathered alongside African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv to protest against the Israeli government's policy of deportations and imprisonment of the asylum seekers.

The protest took place in south Tel Aviv, where most of the city's asylum seekers live, and local residents have long complained about their presence there.

Protesters carried signs reading, "No to deportation," "We're all humans" and "Refugees and residents refuse to be enemies."

Israelis and African asylum seekers protest against deportations and imprisonment, Tel Aviv, February 24, 2108.
Meged Gozani

Togod Omer Adam, an asylum seeker from Sudan, spoke at the protest. "We did not choose to come here to south Tel Aviv. When people arrive at the border [between Israel and Egypt], they give you a one-way ticket to the central bus station in Tel Aviv."

He said that he understands the difficult situation this has created in south Tel Aviv, saying, "We are all victims in this story – the older Israelis residents and we, the asylum seekers. We all live here and for so long they have tried to make us fear one another."

Earlier this week, Israel began jailing citizens of African countries for refusing to leave of their own accord.

African asylum seekers prepare for Saturday night's demonstration against deportations and imprisonment, Tel Aviv, February 24, 2108.
Meged Gozani

On Tuesday night, all asylum seekers at the Holot detention center began a hunger strike in response. Earlier in the day, seven Eritreans who held at Holot were summoned for pre-deportation hearings. After they refused to leave the country for either Eritrea or Rwanda, they were immediately transported to Saharonim Prison, apparently due to fear they would flee.

Two of the men survived torture in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula en route Israel, but their asylum requests were denied.

In line with new rules issued by the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, they will be held at Saharonim indefinitely unless they change their minds.

Hundreds of asylum seekers marched from Holot to Saharonim on Thursday in protest of the government's policies.