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Thousands of African migrants in Israel marched up to the embassies of the United States and European countries on Monday to demand asylum and work rights from the government.
About 60,000 African migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, have made the long journey trekking through Egypt and other Muslim countries to reach Israel in recent years. Some have fled the violence or oppression in their home countries while others have sought a better life and more economic opportunities in Israel.
About 10,000 people took part in Monday's march, police said. The migrants, some of whom are menial laborers in Israel, have been on a three-day strike. On Sunday, more than 13,000 of them rallied in central Tel Aviv.
The migrant influx has sparked tensions with some Israelis who blame them for thefts, violent crimes and for transforming the Jewish identity of some neighborhoods. Many of the African migrants have settled in a neighborhood near the bus station in southern Tel Aviv, where longtime residents say they feel threatened.
Dawit Domuz from Eritrea told Israel Radio he had escaped danger in his home country to reach the Jewish state.
“We arrived in Israel seeking asylum and we want the Israeli government to check our asylum request in a transparent way,” he told the station in perfect Hebrew. “They should grant us basic rights until we can return to our countries,” he said.
Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Arnon Giladi told the station that the migrants crossed into Israel through Egypt and hence that country should be responsible for granting asylum status. He said they arrived in Israel for financial reasons.
“They are not refugees,” Giladi said. “They are economic migrants, they are not more than that.”
Israel has rushed to stop the flood of migrants by erecting a fence along the 220km Egyptian border and a detention centre in the remote southern desert. It says the fence has stopped the Africans from entering Israel illegally.
Also, 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.
The migrants, along with their supporters from Israeli rights groups and others, gathered outside the U.S. Embassy near the Tel Aviv promenade on Monday. Some waved their national flags while others carried makeshift cardboard signs reading, “freedom, not prison,” and “nobody chooses to be a refugee.” -Sapa-AP