Protesting African migrants sent back to Israeli detention center

Israeli police on Tuesday sent back to custody about 150 African migrants who had abandoned a desert detention center in protest against a new law allowing them to be kept there indefinitely.

Aided by rights groups, the migrants had travelled to Jerusalem to demonstrate outside the Israeli parliament, which last week passed a law allowing authorities to hold illegal migrants in an “open facility” until they leave the country.

The Israeli government says that most of the 50,000 African migrants, mostly Sudanese and Eritrean, who have since 2006 crossed over the Egyptian border into its territory, are illegal job-seekers who threaten the Jewish state's social makeup.

But rights groups and liberal lawmakers say many are asylum-seekers fleeing hardship and persecution in their homelands.

“We came from a war-place and we want our dignity. We want to save our lives. We are not criminals,” one migrant, who did not give his name, said at the protest.

Police and immigration officers broke up the migrants' demonstration and loaded them on to buses headed for prison. A police spokesman said there were some minor scuffles at the scene, but no one was hurt.

An Israeli immigration official said the migrants would be held in prison for up to 90 days, for breaking the terms of custody in the newly-built open facility that they had abandoned late on Sunday.

The center, in a remote southern Israeli desert, allows the 400 migrants who were moved there from a nearby prison last week, to leave during the day and return at night.

The newly-passed law says they may be held there pending voluntary repatriation, implementation of deportation orders or resolution of their asylum requests.

“The law is the law and it surely applies to the illegal job-seeking infiltrators. The infiltrators who were moved to the special facility can stay there or go back to their own countries,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Rights group have appealed the new law, which replaced previous legislation, annulled by the Supreme Court last September.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Illegal African migrants killed crossing to Israel

Six African migrants attempting to cross into Israel were killed by their smugglers and by Egyptian forces.

The smugglers opened fire last Friday following an altercation over the fee to help about 100 migrants cross the border into Israel, killing four, according to reports. Two more were killed by Egyptian forces while trying to cross the border.

Several of the dead were Eritrean, according to reports. Some 22 other migrants were detained by Egyptian police.

Twenty-eight African migrants have been killed so far this year attempting to cross into Israel, 24 of them by Egypt’s police, and four by smugglers.

Meanwhile, Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israel’s prime minister, wrote a letter to Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai asking him to allow 400 children of migrant workers slated for deportation to remain in the country. The letter was written by Netanyahu “as a mother of two young sons and as a public service psychologist,” Israeli media reported over the weekend.

Yishai has been a major proponent of deporting the children of illegal workers.

“Most of these children and their parents came to Israel as tourists,” he told Army Radio on Sunday. “It’s time to tell them the trip is over,”

Yishai and Sara Netanyahu will meet Thursday to discuss the issue, according to reports.