BEIRUT

Middle East

African asylum seekers in third day of Israel protests

African migrants gather during a protest in Lewinsky park in Tel Aviv, Israel,Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

TEL AVIV: Thousands of African asylum seekers demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Tuesday for a third straight day of protests against Israel's immigration policies.

Migrants, most of them fleeing Eritrea or Sudan, held banners that read "We are refugees," and "No more prison," as they marched on Western embassies and the offices of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Israel's commercial capital was the scene of race riots in 2012 and the rightwing government has vowed to step up the repatriation of illegal immigrants, saying they pose a threat to the state's Jewish character.

Nearly 60,000 managed to slip across the desert border with Egypt before Israel completed a high-tech barrier last year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the protests of the asylum seekers will make no difference to his government's tough stand.

"Just as we've succeeded in blocking off illegal infiltrations thanks to the security fence, we're determined to send back those who made it in before the border was closed," he told members of his rightwing Likud party on Monday.

Under legislation passed last month, authorities can detain illegal immigrants entering Israel for up to a year without trial.

The government has opened a sprawling detention facility in the Negev desert to house both new entrants and immigrants already in the country deemed to have disturbed public order.

The UNHCR has condemned Israel for ignoring the reasons why asylum seekers have fled their countries of of origin and for failing to provide "those with protection needs" with "access to refugee status determination".

 

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