TEL AVIV, Israel, June 29 (UPI) -- About 500 Eritreans protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv Friday, calling on Washington to press Israel to grant them refugee status.
The protesters said they had faced political persecution in Israel and asked the United States to establish a means of determining their eligibility for refugee status, Ynetnews.com reported.
Carrying signs reading "We want protection," "No to deportation" and "U.S., save us," protesters said Israel wants to send them back to Eritrea, where an oppressive regime is in power.
"The Eritrean asylum-seekers suffer from racism, hatred and incitement by Israeli politicians," said Sarah, an activist at a refugee advancement center, who did not want her last name revealed.
"The U.S. is aware that Eritrea is a country that commits systematic oppression and must make it clear to Israel that it cannot deport refugees there."
Haile Mengistab, an Eritrean activist who waved an American flag across the street from the embassy, told The Jerusalem Post, "the American government can put pressure on the Israeli government, which has stigmatized the entire Eritrean population [in Israel]."
Mengistab referred to anti-migrant statements recently made by Israeli lawmakers.
Another protester told Ynetnews.com: "We didn't come here for a free meal; we are seeking asylum. We are being badly treated and are not being allowed to work but we cannot go back to Eritrea, because it is dangerous. You must understand that a dictatorship rules the country and whoever goes back is in immediate danger."
Thousands of migrants from Sudan and Eritrea have settled in Tel Aviv neighborhoods, leading to racial tensions and demonstrations by local residents.