Thousands of African migrants who entered Israel illegally have marched through Tel Aviv to demand that the government grant them refugee status. They were joined in the protest by local human rights activists.
Several thousand migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, marched from a neighbourhood in the south of Tel Aviv to Rabin Square in the center of the city.
Some carried candles and chanted things like "freedom yes" or simply "freedom." Others carried signs with slogans such as "we are refugees."
Human rights activists and other Israeli supporters of the migrants held up signs that read things like "their freedom, our democracy!"
The march was held to demand that Israel recognize them as refugees, but also to protest against their being held in a detention facility near Israel's border with Egypt, which opened just last month.
The facility is described by Israeli officials as "open" because those being held there are allowed to leave during the day, but are not allowed to seek employment. They are also required to report to the authorities several times daily and to return voluntarily within 48 hours or face arrest.
Several hundred are being held at the facility in the southern Israeli desert, where they wait to find out if they will be granted asylum or be deported. Israeli officials have also said they offer grants of several hundred dollars to migrants who agree to return home voluntarily.
Many of the more than 60,000 people believed to be living in Israel illegally argue that going home is not an option, as their lives would be in jeopardy if they returned to their countries of origin.
The migrants are being held under a new law passed on December 10, which allows the government to detain illegal immigrants for up to a year without trial. This replaced earlier legislation, which had allowed the authorities to detain migrants for up to three years. That law was struck down by Israel's top court back in September.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel is among the organizations that have already filed a legal challenge to the new legislation.
pfd/lw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)