African migrants flee desert detention camp to march towards Jerusalem

Asylum seekers walking toward Jerusalem on Monday. Photo courtesy of Ilyan Marshak.
 
 
UPDATE (Tuesday, 11am) : After walking all day Monday, the migrants spent the night in a kibbutz and finished their journey to Jerusalem on Tuesday morning via buses provided by Israeli activists. There, they went to protest in front of the prime minister's office. 
 

ORIGINAL STORY:
 
About 150 undocumented African migrants have fled the camp where they were being detained in Israel’s Negev desert and are now marching toward Jerusalem, where they plan to ask the government to grant them asylum. Most of them had been locked up for over a year and a half, without trial. We spoke to one of them, who explained why they’re taking this risk.
 
In 2011, the Israeli parliament passed a law that allowed the authorities to detain undocumented immigrants without trial for up to three years. Hundreds of African migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, were locked up in detention centres in the Negev desert. But in September, a ruling from the country’s highest court declared this unconstitutional. In response, the authorities built an “open” detention centre, also in the desert.
 
This past Thursday, a first group of about 500 migrants was transferred from a closed centre to the new centre, called Holot. Its gates are locked overnight. During the daytime, they are left open, but migrants have to return for roll call three times a day. If they don’t, they can be arrested and sent back to a closed prison. Early Sunday, the Israeli Prison Service reported that 54 detainees had left the centre over the weekend and had not returned. Later on Sunday, another 150 or so left as a group and walked for six hours until they reached the nearest town, Be’er Sheva, where they spent the night. On Monday morning, they started walking toward Jerusalem, which is 90 kilometres away.
 
Video courtesy of Ilyan Marshak.
 
According to the law, the police can only arrest the migrants 48 hours after they fail to report for roll call at their detention centre, which means they cannot arrest the marchers until Tuesday.
 
The Israeli authorities have not yet said whether they would arrest them. Miri Regev, who is chair of the Israeli parliament’s interior committee and belongs to the right-wing Likud party, released a statement saying she hoped “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.”
Contributors

“This is the first time I’m really seeing Israel - I’ve been locked up since I got here a year and a half ago”

Abdelmonin Osman, 24, is from the Darfur region of Sudan. He was arrested immediately after crossing the border into Israel, and spent the past 19 months in detention camps. FRANCE 24 spoke to him by phone on Monday on his march towards Jerusalem via an Israeli activist's mobile phone.
 
I have been here for a year and a half, but this is the first time I am really seeing Israel. Since my arrival, I have been locked up in the middle of the Negev desert. Last Thursday, we were forced to sign a document written in Hebrew, which none of us understand. They told us that these were our release papers, but they drove us straight to Holot.
 
Holot is locked at night, and you have to be present to sign in three times during the day. It’s in the middle of the desert, and the nearest town is an hour and a half away by car, so in practice you can’t really go anywhere. We were all very angry, because this felt like cheating. It’s just another prison. We went on a hunger strike, but many of us Sudanese prisoners got together and decided this wasn’t enough, that we should walk to Jerusalem. Some others from Eritrea decided to take another path and go into hiding.
 
“Both my parents were killed in Darfur”
 
Us, we know we might get arrested once our 48 hours are up. A police car is following us. But we don’t care. We have to make our message heard, to show people that we are peaceful human beings, and that we are suffering. We ran away from a country with great troubles, which we can’t return to. Me, both my parents were killed; I was in danger there. We came to Israel hoping to find refuge, but instead we were put in prison like criminals. If Israel won’t accept us as refugees, then it must transfer us to other countries that will.
 
So far, we have not run into any trouble on the road. Last night, after walking from Holot to the nearest town, Israeli activists helped us find a place to sleep. They also gave us winter clothes so we could keep warm. [Editor’s Note: Israel is experiencing unseasonably cold weather. Three of the marchers were hospitalized Sunday evening due to the effects of the cold.] Some of these Israelis have now joined our march. We are so thankful to see that there are people who understand us. We don’t know what will happen next, but we have no choice but to keep going.
 
Photo courtesy of Orly Feldheim.
 
Photo courtesy of Ilyan Marshak.

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