Hundreds of African asylum seekers who left the Holot detention center on Friday have camped at the Nitzana forest in the western Negev on Saturday, refusing to return to the detention facility.
The asylum seekers met with representatives from the UN Refugee Agency and asked that the international body help them in their plight.
Some have told the UN representatives that they intend to attempt to cross the border again into Egypt, after having tried to do so in the past and failing.
According to an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, if the asylum seekers don't return to Holot within 48 hours from their departure, the state is authorized to arrest them and transfer them to the Saharonim detention facility.
"There is no difference between Holot and Saharonim, it doesn't matter how you look at it, we are held prisoners, therefore we don't have a choice but to stay here - even if the police arrive," Habtom, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, told Ynet.
Asylum seekers protest (Photo: Gilad Morag)
Habtom is one of the hundreds of African asylum seekers who left the "open" detention facility Holot and headed to the Nitzana border crossing on Friday afternoon in a protest march against the government.
Asylum seekers in Holot detention center (Photo: Barel Ephraim)
"The government hasn't even reviewed our requests for asylum and held us in jail for years even though we are refugees," explained Jack, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, who also refuses to return to Holot.
The protesters clashed with police and IDF forces that prevented them from reaching to the border. "Israel trampled our rights; we are desperate and therefore intend to return to Sinai and Egypt, even if it would risk our lives. We are ready to die, since we have nothing left," added Jack.
The Holot facility currently holds some 2,400 people. In the past two weeks protests have been increasing inside the facility, with asylum seekers demanding improved health care and educational facilities. Hundreds of the Holot detainees have violated the detention terms and failed to check in for their mandatory daily attendance. Some of the protest's leaders were transgered to the Saharonim detention facility follow the violation.
"The government's draconian plan to discourage the asylum seekers into making them leave on their own 'free' will works better than expected," said Chairman of Foreign Workers Committee MK Michal Rozin.
"The Holot detention facility is a prison for all intents and purposes, where innocent people are being imprisoned without a trial. This is not a way to treat refugees; this is not a way to treat human beings," added Rozin.