Around 1,000 asylum seekers walk out of the Holot open detention facility but are stopped short of the Egyptian border, announce they will no longer seek acceptance by the Israeli government and demand that the United Nations take responsibility for them and resettle them in third countries.
Text by Michael Omer-Man
Photos by Oren Ziv, Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org
Update (Sunday 8:30 p.m.):
Police arrested the asylum seekers and loaded them onto buses. For more information and photos, click here.
Update (Sunday 7 p.m.):
Police told asylum seekers that they have 15 minutes to get onto buses back to Holot. The asylum seekers refused. A large number of riot police were waiting offsite.
Update (Sunday 5:30 p.m.):
Large police forces are reportedly nearing the asylum seekers, and have brought with them empty buses. Earlier, in a press conference in Tel Aviv, asylum seekers said they were determined to reach a UN facility on the Egyptian border.
Over 800 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers marched out of the Holot ‘open detention facility’ in Israel’s southern desert on Friday, stating that they had no intention of returning. The walk-out was the latest action the prisoners and other asylum seekers have taken over the past year to bring attention to their plight and to demand better treatment from the Israeli government.
The asylum seekers attempted to march to the border with Egypt. Some of the asylum seekers said they wanted to cross into Egypt, others said they were planning on camping out on the border in order to make their demands to the UN and international community.
A statement released on Friday indicated a shift in strategy, saying that in light of the negligible and hostile treatment they have received in Israel, that they will no longer seek asylum in the country. Instead, it said, they are demanding that the UN Refugee Agency attempt to resettle them in third countries. A second statement said they will again attempt to cross into Egypt if their calls are not met.
Beyond Israel’s refusal to recognize their refugee status, among the group’s grievances, were: the lack of medical care they receive both in the Holot detention facility and outside of it; the recent arrests of community organizers who were removed from Holot and sent to another, closed prison; the arbitrary arrests of African asylum seekers throughout the country.
In response to civil disobedience and non-violent protests inside Holot, Israel authorities sent a number of people who they identified as the organizers to a nearby closed prison facility. Earlier in 2014, hundreds of detainees at Holot marched from the southern prison to Jerusalem to demand recognition of their refugee status.
Following that large walk-out, tens of thousands of African asylum seekers in Israel took to the streets for a series of massive protests demanding that their rights be respected, that they be given legal status in Israel and that the state stop detaining and imprisoning asylum seekers without charge.
The asylum seekers who left Holot on Friday were stopped by Israeli soldiers before they could reach the Nitzana border crossing with Egypt. They then decided to set up camp in a small forest a few hundred meters from the border.
They group spent the night among the trees and in the morning began work to set up shade structures and other facilities, indicating they are prepared to stay there for a while. Two busloads of African asylum seekers, activists and Eritrean clergy from Tel Aviv arrived in the early afternoon with water and other supplies.