African migrants holds candles and placards in front of the City Hall building as they rally against the Israeli government for their civil rights, in Tel Aviv December 28, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
Several thousand African asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally through Egypt staged a protest in Tel Aviv on Sunday, denouncing the Jewish state's long-term detention of illegal immigrants.
Demonstrators sharply criticised the authorities' refusal to give them refugee status and their detention of several hundred asylum seekers.
"We are all refugees" and "yes to freedom, no to prison!" they chanted in English, with Israeli rights activists also joining the march.
"We have fled persecution, dictatorships, civil wars and genocides," Dawud, an Eritrean asylum-seeker at the protest, told AFP.
"The Israeli government must study our requests for asylum and treat us like human beings," Dawud said, without giving his full name.
He added that the demonstrators intended to head for the UN refugee agency's (UNHCR) Tel Aviv office and foreign embassies in the coastal city.
"Instead of considering us refugees, Israel treats us like criminals," Dawud said.
Many illegal immigrants, who are often employed in menial jobs in restaurants and hotels, also began a three-day strike in several Israeli cities.
Under legislation passed on December 10, authorities can detain illegal immigrants entering the country for up to a year without trial.
It was the latest in a string of measures aimed at cracking down on close to 60,000 illegal immigrants from Africa, whom Israel says pose a threat to the state's Jewish character.
The construction of a high-tech fence along the border with Egypt was recently completed.
The new law amends earlier legislation which allowed for immigrants to be detained without trial for up to three years, but which was overturned by the Supreme Court in September.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and other groups have already filed a petition against the new law.