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African migrants protest outside Israel’s parliament

By AFP - Jan 08,2014 - Last updated at Jan 08,2014

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — More than 10,000 African asylum seekers rallied outside Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem on Wednesday, police said, in a fourth straight day of protests against immigration policy.

The demonstration was “calm”, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, adding that police were deployed to keep order. He put the number of protesters at “more than 10,000”.

“We are refugees, we need protection,” the demonstrators chanted.

An organiser of the rally, who gave his name only as Baso, said that more than 100 busloads of protesters had headed in the morning from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“We have a letter addressed to the government of Israel, but we will hand it to the Knesset [parliament],” he told AFP.

Parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein, however, banned four demonstration leaders, who were invited to a meeting with MPs, from entering the Knesset building.

Edelstein wanted to “avoid provocation that could degenerate into violence”, a statement from his office said.

Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly Eritrean and Sudanese, have demonstrated each day since Sunday in Tel Aviv, including outside offices of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and foreign embassies.

Israel’s commercial capital was the scene of race riots in 2012 and the rightwing government has vowed to step up the repatriation of illegal immigrants, saying they pose a threat to the state’s Jewish character.

Some 52,000 were already in Israel, after managing to slip across the desert border with Egypt, before Israel completed a high-tech barrier last year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the protests will make no difference to his government’s tough stand on asylum seekers.

“Just as we’ve succeeded in blocking off illegal infiltrations thanks to the security fence, we’re determined to send back those who made it in before the border was closed,” he told members of his rightwing Likud Party on Monday.

Under legislation passed last month, authorities can detain illegal immigrants entering Israel for up to a year without trial.

The government has opened a sprawling detention facility in the Negev Desert to house both new entrants and immigrants already in the country deemed to have disturbed public order.

The UN refugees agency has condemned Israel for ignoring the reasons asylum seekers have fled their countries of origin and for failing to provide “those with protection needs” with “access to refugee status determination”.

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