1. Asylum seekers walked toward Israel’s border with Egypt Saturday, after leaving Holot, an open detention center.
2. The group was attempting to reach the demilitarized zone between Egypt and Israel, where they wanted to set up camp.
3. “This is an act of desperation,” said Adam, an Eritrean asylum seeker who spoke to BuzzFeed by phone. “We didn’t want it to come to this, but we felt we had no other choice.”
4. Israeli soldiers clashed with the group as they neared the border.
5. In this video, Israeli soldiers can be seen arguing with the group and dragging them away from the border.
A spokesperson for the group said they would remain at the camp until their demands were met. Those demands include better conditions at the Holot detention center – where they said there is no health care – and the release of those who have been held for upwards of two years or have been victims of torture and assault.
The group is also asking that their asylum requests be reviewed by the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, rather than the current system which sees Israel Interior Ministry review all requests.
6. African asylum seekers have protested against Israel’s detention policies for months.
A spokesperson for the asylum seekers said they want to leave Israel because they are “sick of the Israeli government’s asylum policy.” He and other asylum seekers who spoke to BuzzFeed asked to be quoted anonymously to protect themselves from legal action.
That asylum policy includes detaining migrants for an indefinite period at the Holot detention facility in Israel’s southern Negev desert. The facility is open, and allows those who stay there to leave during the day. But the asylum seekers say that with no towns or cities around for miles there is little for them to do there.
“We can’t work and we can’t move forward with our lives,” Adam said. “It is worse than prison because we don’t even know how long we will be there.”
He said that he would rather take his chances and return to Eritrea, which he fled four years ago to avoid mandatory military service.
“I once hoped that Israel would be a way for me to improve my life, but that is not the case,” he said.
Israel’s high court struck down legislation earlier this year which allowed asylum seekers to be jailed for three years. New legislation stipulates that those who enter Israel can only be jailed for one year, after which they are moved to the Holot detention facility.
Israeli officials say there are currently upwards of 50,000 African asylum seekers in the country, most of whom are either Sudanese or Eritrean. Last year, Israel began voluntary deportation of asylum seekers. The policy has been heavily criticized, especially after it was discovered that some of those who returned to South Sudan from Israel were later killed when violence flared in the newly established state.
Israel defended the policy, saying that as a small state, they could not absorb tens of thousands of asylum seekers.
7. Israel’s Prison Services said that those who left the Holot detention facility were expected to return, or face arrest.
8. A spokesperson for the asylum seekers has been tweeting from an account representing the Holot detention facilities. They have been appealing to Israelis to put pressure on their government to improve the treatment of asylum seekers.
Israeli police began breaking up the protest camp Sunday evening, and forcing the group onto busses that would return them to the Holot camp.