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Hundreds protest in Israel illegal immigration battle

By Dan Morgan and Guy Azriel, CNN
updated 1:58 PM EDT, Sun June 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Several hundred Sudanese immigrants rally in Tel Aviv
  • More than 59,000 illegal African immigrants have entered the country in recent years
  • Most come from Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan
  • The government plans to deport some illegal immigrants

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Several hundred Sudanese immigrants rallied Sunday on the streets of Tel Aviv, demanding refugee status.

Marching towards the United Nations Refugee Agency building, the demonstrators held up banners reading "We are not infiltrators, we are refugees," "We are human beings too" and "We are refugees, we are not criminals."

The issue of illegal African migrants has been of growing concern in the Jewish state in recent months.

Some residents of southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods, where there is a large concentration of Africans, have blamed their new neighbors for increasing levels of crime and suffocating the infrastructure and public services. Some also complain the illegal immigration is changing the fabric of Israel.

According to government records, more than 59,000 illegal African immigrants have entered the country in recent years through its southern border with Egypt. Israel is spending millions on the construction of a border barrier, due to be completed later this year.

But for now, the numbers continue to grow, with 2,031 new migrants reported over the last month.

Most of the immigrants originate from Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan. They hold temporary permits to remain in the country, but Israel says it is looking for ways to send them back to their home countries.

Last week, an Israeli court approved a government plan to deport 1,500 citizens of South Sudan.

Many Israeli refugee agencies and officials are pushing against those plans, and calling on the government to allow the immigrants to stay.

Also on Sunday, Human Rights Watch called on the Israeli parliament to immediately repeal or amend a newly revised law which, according to the human rights group, "punishes asylum seekers for irregularly crossing into Israel, in violation of their basic rights."

In May, a protest in Tel Aviv turned violent, leading to the arrests of 17 people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the violence. "The problem of infiltrators must be resolved, and we will resolve it," he said after the protest last month. "We will complete the construction of the security fence in several months and soon will start the process of sending the migrants back to their home countries."

He added, "We will solve the problem and will do so responsibly."

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