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African refugees teach Israeli society lesson in civics

After years of ignoring the fate of African asylum seekers, the human dilemma has risen to the top of Israel's public discourse, forcing the authorities to confront it.
An African migrant sits with compatriots on the third day of protests against Israel's detention policy toward migrants it sees as illegal job-seekers, in Tel Aviv's Levinsky park January 7, 2014. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY IMMIGRATION) - RTX17549

On Dec. 17, when a dazzling blanket of snow still covered the open space adjacent to the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, they got off the bus and walked silently in two lines. Some of them held cardboard signs bearing slogans in English such as “Freedom” and “No More Prison.” That setting only added to the surreal spectacle: Rows of dark-skinned men, some with tears streaming down their faces, marched past chanting, “We are human beings!”

Most Israelis and the media still refer to them as “infiltrators.” Those with a more lenient attitude prefer to call them “illegal residents.” Human rights organizations consider them to be asylum seekers and demand they are recognized as refugees — as people whose homeland has become a desolate wilderness. In many cases, it more resembles a killing field.

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