African migrants march on Jerusalem in protest against detention
Published Tuesday 17/12/2013 (updated) 18/12/2013 11:35
African migrants take part in a protest march on the highway near Lahav
junction in southern Israel on their way to Jerusalem on Dec. 16, 2013
LAHAV JUNCTION, Israel (AFP) -- Hundreds of undocumented African migrants on Monday began a protest march to Jerusalem after fleeing a detention center in the south where they were being held, an AFP correspondent said.
The group, all men, could be seen marching northwards along a highway near Lahav junction in southern Israel, holding up signs reading: "Recognize us as refugees" and "Holot (detention) facility is a prison," the correspondent said.
Under legislation passed on December 10, undocumented migrants entering Israel can be held for up to a year without trail.
A spokeswoman for Israel Prisons Service told AFP that 282 inmates who were being held at the Holot detention facility had not shown up for the evening lockdown on Sunday night.
She said they had made their way to Beersheva, more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) away, where they spent the night at the central bus station in freezing wintry conditions.
The sprawling detention facility opened its gates for the first time on Thursday with 484 undocumented migrants from Africa taken there, the IPS said.
It is open during the day but inmates must return for a night lockdown. The center was initially designed for up to 3,300 people, but can be expanded to hold as many as 11,000.
Officials said the protesters were likely to be arrested for not returning to the Holot centre.
Speaking to public radio, Israel Population and Immigration Authority head Amnon Ben Ami said they could be arrested 48 hours after failing to show up for the Sunday evening lockdown.
The Dec. 10 law that legalized extended detention without trial for migrants was the latest in a series of measures aimed at cracking down on the numbers of Africans entering the country illegally, which Israel says poses a threat to the state's "Jewish character."
The new law amends earlier legislation which allowed for immigrants to be held for up to three years without trial that was overturned by the Supreme Court in September.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said on Monday that it and other rights groups had filed a petition against the new law.
"The organizations claim that the new amendment does not abide by the principles set forth by the court's September 15 decision to overturn the previous amendment to the law, and is in many ways more severe than the nullified amendment," it said.