Skip to main content

African migrants protest, push for asylum in Israel

By Ian Lee, CNN
January 5, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
 Tens of thousands of African migrants take part in a rally on January 5 in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tens of thousands of African migrants take part in a rally on January 5 in Tel Aviv, Israel.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • African migrants call for a labor strike in Tel Aviv
  • They ask Israel's government to grant them asylum
  • The government offers the migrants cash incentives to return home
  • Officials call them illegal migrants and blame them for an increase in crime

(CNN) -- Thousands of African migrants cram into Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, calling for a labor strike.

Their chants fill the air, summing up their message: "We need asylum."

Activists estimate more than 50,000 migrants work illegally in low-paying jobs in Israel.

Many are fleeing persecution from war-torn areas like Sudan and Eritrea. The threat to their lives pushes them to undertake the dangerous journey via smugglers' routes to Israel. A vast majority cross the Sinai Peninsula, known for being a hotbed of kidnapping and organ harvesting.

African migrants fear Israeli deportation
Open Mic: Israel immigration tensions
African migrants want to stay in Israel

Once across the border in Israel, they try to claim asylum.

"All of us are fleeing genocide, fleeing dictatorship regimes. Looking for protection," says the African Refugee Development Center's Mutasim Ali, who came to Israel from Darfur. "(A migrant) doesn't care where he gets it. We know it's too difficult to cross the border making our way to Israel, but that's the only option at the time."

The asylum seekers complain that the Israeli government isn't viewing their goal as legitimate, but rather sees them as migrant workers.

"The Israeli government leaves them in limbo from one side. The Israeli government calls them infiltrators, that they came here for work and that they are all criminals," says Orit Marom of ASSAF, Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. "On the other side, they never check their asylum requests."

The Israeli government refers to the asylum seekers as illegal migrants who are in the country to work.

They blame them for an increase in crime and say they threaten Israel's internal security. The government says it is increasing the number of security personnel to combat the crime.

They are also giving refugee seekers willing to voluntarily return to their home countries a cash incentive of $3,500. But if that doesn't work, then the government says they'll deport them.

"We are determined to deport the tens of thousands of illegal migrants who are here after having reduced the number of illegal labor migrants who enter Israel's cities," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last November during his weekly Cabinet meeting. "The steps that we unanimously approved today are proportionate and necessary for maintaining the Jewish and democratic character of the state and will restore security to Israel's citizens while upholding the directives of the High Court of Justice and international law."

Basow Ibrahim gave up being a rebel in Sudan's Nuba Mountains over a year ago. While fighting the Khartoum government, he said, he realized there was more to life.

"I'm here because I want to protect myself. I want to save my life," Ibrahim said. "I want to finish my education."

Ibrahim's story is similar to that of many refugee seekers.

They say they plan to return home to their families and friends once the threat to their lives is gone.

Until that day comes, they say they hope Israel will keep them safe by granting them asylum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 12, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Tichleman 1
A makeup artist, writer and model who loves monkeys and struggles with demons.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Lionel Messi's ability is not in question -- but will the World Cup final allow him to emerge from another footballing legend's shadow?
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
Why are Iraqi politicians dragging their feet while ISIS militants fortify their foothold across the country?
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
An elephant, who was chained for 50 years, cries tears of joy after being freed in India. CNN's Sumnima Udas reports.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 0732 GMT (1532 HKT)
Beneath a dusty town in northeastern Pakistan, CNN explores a cold labyrinth of hidden tunnels that was once a safe haven for militants.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2249 GMT (0649 HKT)
CNN's Ravi Agrawal asks whether Narendra Modi can harness the country's potential to finally deliver growth.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 0444 GMT (1244 HKT)
CNN's Ben Wedeman visits the Yazji family and finds out what it's like living life in the middle of conflict.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Israel has deployed its Iron Dome defense system to halt incoming rockets. Here's how it works.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
People walk with their luggage at the Maiquetia international airport that serves Caracas on July 3, 2014. A survey by pollster Datanalisis revealed that 25% of the population surveyed (end of May) has at least one family member or friend who has emigrated from the country. AFP PHOTO/Leo RAMIREZ (Photo credit should read LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Plane passengers are used to paying additional fees, but one airport in Venezuela is now charging for the ultimate hidden extra -- air.
ADVERTISEMENT