Sudanese refugees march on Jerusalem

In the most dramatic demonstration ever staged by African refugees in Israel, some 150 Sudanese men who have been detained for months at the sprawling Saharonim prison camp in the desert south marched cross-country on Jerusalem, and on Dec. 18 protested outside the government compound there. In the three-day march through snow-covered country, the migrants took shelter in bus stations at night. They had last week been transfered from Saharonim to an "open" facility at Holot—which authorities maintain is not a prison, despite the fact that the migrants must report back there each night or be in violaiton of the law. Upon the transfer, they quickly abandoned the facilty and began their cross-country trek. At the Jerusalem rally, which was itself an act of civil disobedience against their legal detention, the migrants chanted: "No more prison!" and "Refugees' rights right now!"

The Holot center was opened following Knesset approval of the "Law for the Prevention of Infiltration," allowing the open-ended detention of migrants until their asylum requests, deportation, or voluntary repatriation are completed. Under the law, migrants now living "illegally" in Israeli cities must be moved to Holot and other such detention centers. The law establishes "open" detention centers such as Holot because Israe's Supreme Court ruled in September that the former policy of detaining migrants for up to three years in prisons was unconstitutional. Migrants caught entering Israel illegally may also be jailed in a standard prison for up to one year without charges, according to the new law. (Jewish Journal, Jurist, Dec. 18; Al Jazeera, Dec. 17;