African men in Ashkelon (illustrative)
African men in Ashkelon (illustrative) Israel news photo: Flash 90

In what seems to be a historic first, illegal entrants to Israel – who are not allowed to work in the country – have gone on strike.

Many of the estimated 60,000 citizens of various African countries who have illegally entered Israel over the past several years are employed at various under-the-counter jobs. On Sunday, many say they will not come in to work.

The strike was called in protest of a new government policy that allows authorities to require illegal entrants to spend the night in detention centers. To date, roughly 500 men have been ordered to report nightly to the Holot detention center in southern Israel, but the center could accommodate thousands more.

Illegal entrants, backed by left-wing Israeli groups, have strongly protested the new policy, which they say amounts to imprisonment. In statements to the media, left-wing groups said in the illegal entrants’ name, “The ‘open’ center in Holot which refuge-seekers are sent to daily is a jail for all intents and purposes.

“The government of Israel must cease its cruel policy, cancel the law for prevention of illegal entry, release all the innocent detainees, stop the violent arrests [of illegal entrants] immediately and legalize our status in Israel,” they concluded.

Illegal entrants previously staged a rally in which men fled the Holot center and marched on Jerusalem.

Those illegal entrants who have been recognized as refugees are not required to report to the center, and are eligible to remain in Israel legally. Few of the illegal entrants have refugee status.

The law to require illegal entrants to report to centers at night has received support from Israelis living in neighborhoods with a high illegal population. Israeli residents have complained of frequent harassment at the hands of the illegal entrants, as well as high rates of violent crime.