In the middle of the desert

African refugees walk to Jerusalem in mass protest against indefinite detention by the Israeli state.

A Sudanese migrant worker in Israel (Photo: Amira_A via Flickr CC).

Last week on December 16, in an act of civil disobedience, over 150 asylum seekers walked all the way from the ‘open’ prisons facility in Be’er Sheva in southern Israel to Jerusalem. Contesting the new policy which forces them to live in ‘open’ facilities, asylum seekers protested against their indefinite detention without trial as well as Israel’s refusal to recognize them as refugees.

In September of this year, the Supreme Court overturned the amendment bill to Israel’s Anti-Infiltration law, which treated all irregular border crossers as “infiltrators”, including asylum seekers. The Anti-Infiltration Law allowed the state to hold asylum seekers in custody, without trial, for up to three years. While the law was overturned and ruled unconstitutional on the grounds that it disproportionately harms asylum seeker’s basic right to freedom, in order prevent their release upon the Supreme Court’s decision, the Knesset rapidly moved to forward a legislative amendment to transfer asylum seekers to “open detention centers”, where they could be held indefinitely.

In protest of their indefinite detention, a group of asylum seekers left the ‘open’ prison facility, “Holot”, in the south of the country, walking six hours toward Jerusalem to demand freedom and their refugee rights before the Knesset. Asylum seekers and human rights activists joined the freedom march from Tel Aviv.

Shortly upon their arrival to Jerusalem, violent arrests followed outside the Knesset building.

A second freedom march was launched on December 19, and this time asylum seekers were immediately arrested by immigration officers and returned to prison.

In response to the recent demonstration PM Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page that “the infiltrators who were transferred to a special facility can stay there, or return to their home countries,” and that “the law exists for everyone. A law is a law, and it most certainly applies to illegal work infiltrators.”

Israel has yet to properly internalize the concept that refugees deserve protection. Israel’s policies aimed toward asylum seekers are punitive in nature and are meant to both deter the arrival of individuals into the country as well as encourage the departure of those that are in the process of seeking asylum. Israel refuses to de-link its immigration policies from its asylum ones and therefore refuses to recognize that categorical distinctions exist among individuals entering its territory, and that while some might be work-migrants, some are nonetheless potential refugees and should therefore be given the opportunity to go through an asylum process, instead of being imprisoned for years without trial.

Commenting on the possibility of being arrested by immigration officers, one Sudanese refugee said that the possibility of going back to prison “doesn’t really matter because if they catch us they’ll take us back to the previous prison. It doesn’t matter which prison you’re in.” He also noted that the new facility is “just like a prison, only the doors are open,” and that the open door policy is meaningless since the facility is placed in the middle of the desert.

Further Reading

Take it to the house

On this month’s AIAC Radio, Boima celebrates all things basketball, looking at its historical relationships with music and race, then focusing on Africa’s biggest names in the sport.

El maestro siempre

Maky Madiba Sylla is a militant filmmaker excavating iconic Africans whose legacies he believes need to be known widely—like the singer Laba Sosseh.

Madiba and Mali

There is a remarkable connection between Mali and South Africa, dating back to the liberation struggle, and actively encouraged by the author’s work.

A devil’s deal

Rwanda’s proposed refugee deal with Britain is another strike against President Paul Kagame’s claim that he is an authentic and fearless pan-Africanist who advocates for the less fortunate.

Red and Black

Yunxiang Gao’s new book takes a fresh look at connected lives of African American and Chinese leftist activists, artists and intellectuals after World War II.

The Dar es Salaam years

In the early 1970s, Walter Rodney, expelled from Jamaica, took a post in Tanzania. In Leo Zeilig’s new book, he captures those exciting, but also difficult years and how it formed Rodney.

Rushing to boycott

The cultural boycott of Russia turns to the flawed precedent of apartheid South Africa for inspiration, while ignoring the much more carefully considered boycott of official Israeli culture by the BDS Movement.

The party question

Marcel Paret’s book, “Fragmented Militancy: Precarious Resistance in South Africa after Racial Inclusion,” tries to make sense of politics in South African urban informal settlements.

The missing pieces

Between melancholy, terror, and disillusion, Petit Pays is a groundbreaking and eye-opening take on one of the darkest pages of African history, one that is often misunderstood in the West.