At a compound deep in the southern Israeli desert, African migrants protest against a law that has allowed hundreds like them to be held in custody here indefinitely.
They are at the Holot complex - a so-called "open" detention centre which detainees are allowed to leave for a few hours at a time. But given the facility’s remote location near the Egyptian frontier, travel is impractical and many say they do not go out every day.
9 Feb 2014. TEL AVIV, Israel. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An African migrant sits inside a bus in Tel Aviv before it leaves for the desert detention centre.
Israel opened the compound in December after its Supreme Court stopped the practice of jailing illegal migrants for up to three years in regular prisons.
But in what the migrants call a cruel twist and activists say is a rights violation, a law passed the same month allows the migrants to be detained indefinitely, pending the resolution of their requests to stay in Israel.
Although they are allowed to leave the facility briefly each day, the closest town is about an hour's drive away, and detainees are required to check in every few hours. Failure to do so could mean transfer to a conventional prison.
30 Jan 2014. HOLOT, Israel. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
African migrants walk through the desert around the Holot complex with their wrists crossed over their heads as if they were handcuffed – a gesture of defiance.
More than 50,000 Africans - mainly Sudanese and Eritreans - have crossed into Israel surreptitiously through a once-porous, and now fenced, Egyptian border in the past eight years.
Rights groups argue that many of the migrants are worthy of political asylum, citing unrest and oppression in their homelands. Israel dismisses most as illegal job seekers.
Rather than conduct outright deportations, Israel is trying to coax migrants to return home voluntarily - including offering a cash incentive - or persuade other countries to accept them. The Holot complex fits into this drive.
“Legally people can be held at the open facility indefinitely, but the idea is for it to be a transit (point) for migrants before they go back home or to a third country," said Daniel Solomon, an Interior Ministry legal adviser.