JERUSALEM — Israeli authorities on Sunday broke up a protest by hundreds of African migrants who marched out of an Israeli detention center over the weekend to protest their treatment.
Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for Israel’s Interior Ministry, said the protesters were rounded up with little resistance. She said a small number of protesters scuffled with authorities, and that there was no serious violence. The protesters were taken to an Israeli prison several kilometers (miles) away.
The Eritrean and Sudanese migrants left the “Holot” detention center on Friday, saying Israel has not processed their claims for asylum. The migrants have implored the U.N. to help them resettle elsewhere.
“We cannot continue living in a cage in the desert, with no release date and no judicial review,” migrant activists said in a statement.
About 50,000 Africans have poured into Israel in recent years after crossing through neighboring Egypt. The Africans say they are fleeing persecution and danger. Israel says many are looking for employment.
Israel has struggled with how to deal with the African migrants. It has built a fence along its 220-kilometer (130-mile) border with Egypt, offered cash to migrants to return home, reached out to other countries to take them in and in many cases detained them.
Some 2,300 people are held at the open Holot detention center in a remote desert location. They can come and go, but they must sign in several times a day and sleep there, making it impossible for them to stray far from the remote facility or hold jobs. Those who violate the rules, or reject what Israel calls “invitations” to report there, can be sent to a nearby prison. The protesters who were detained Sunday will be sent to the prison, where conditions are harsher than at the detention center.
Israel does not deport the migrants because they could face danger in their conflict-ridden homelands. But critics charge that Israel’s policies make migrants feel coerced to leave. They also accuse Israel of dragging its feet on reviewing the migrants’ claims for refugee status.
Some in Israel believe Israel’s history as a refuge for Holocaust survivors compels it to help the downtrodden. Others fear taking in so many Africans will threaten the country’s Jewish character.