TEL AVIV (EJP)—Some 10,000 of African migrants in Israel, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, marched up to the embassies of the United States and European countries in Tel Aviv on Monday to demand asylum and work rights from the Israeli government.
About 60,000 African migrants, have made the long journey 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.
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.
Israel has rushed to stop the flood of migrants by erecting a fence along the 130-mile (220-kilometer) Egyptian border and a detention center 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 Israeli government says most of the migrants are not refugees but rather economic migrants, and that they will not be allowed to stay in Israel.
“A small minority of these people are really refugees,” Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ofir Akunis said.
“Other countries, including those they’re turning to, America and European countries, don’t recognize them as refugees either,” he said.
Interior Minister Gideon Saar responded to the ongoing protest on Monday, repeating the government’s position that most of the migrants were not refugees.
“They are demanding collective recognition as refugees in order to plant roots in Israel,” Interior Minister Gideon Saar told the Army Radio.
The state was checking their requests on a case-by-case basis, he added, and its work was “showing results. We’re seeing a sharp rise in the number of infiltrators who are leaving Israel. They understand that the government is serious, that we are serious.”
Most of the asylum seekers, the minister said “are labor migrants, and the state of Israel is not their home.”