TEL AVIV – About 10,000 African migrants marched in Israel’s financial center of Tel Aviv on Sunday and gathered in front of City Hall in their largest demonstration yet to demand work rights and better treatment from the Israeli government.
Over the past eight years, roughly 60,000 African migrants, mostly Sudanese and Eritreans, have crossed into Israel from Egypt either to escape war and hardship or to seek work. The influx has placed Israel in a tough situation, with many believing that the Jewish state, founded in part as a refuge for Holocaust survivors after World War II, has a responsibility to help the downtrodden, while others fear that taking in so many Africans will threaten the country’s Jewish character.
Chanting, “We are refugees, we need asylum,” the protesters asked the government to allow them to stay. Organizers announced that they have embarked on a three-day strike to protest a crackdown on migrants and called on the government to allow them to work legally.
“This protest is over our rights as human beings. We are not treated like humans,” Muttasem Ali from the Darfur region of Sudan said in Hebrew in an interview with Channel 2 TV.
Many migrants have found their way to the impoverished neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv. The area has so many migrants that Israelis have renamed it “little Africa” and the influx has caused tension with locals who accuse them of being responsible for rising crime rates.
The government has scrambled to stop the flood of migrants by erecting a fence along the 220-km Egyptian border and a massive detention center in the remote southern desert. The government has offered incentives for them to leave but is unable to deport most of them because they would face harm if they returned to their countries of origin.