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.
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.”