Tens of thousands of African migrants marched in Israel's second most populous city Tel Aviv on Sunday in protest at the Israeli government's asylum policy.

Up to 30,000 asylum seekers, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, held a silent march in the city's Rabin Square demanding changes to new government measures designed to restrict their movements and ability to work.

In Eilat, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, around 300 asylum seekers held a protest on Sunday morning outside the interior ministry building.

"Yes to freedom, no to prison!" protesters chanted. "No more deportation. We are refugees, we need asylum". An Israeli police spokeswoman said the protests were peaceful.

The asylum seekers are calling for official refugee status and demanding a change to the Israeli government's policy of holding them for long periods in the new Holot detention facility in the Negev desert in southern Israel.

All the doors have closed - people have nowhere to go, nothing to do
Konda, protest leader

The migrants, some of whom have been living in Israel for years, have been forced to take up low-paid jobs after leaving Eritrea and Sudan, and say they have been persecuted. The protesters say their only choice is to spend time in prison or agree to return home, where they face danger.

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Israel cannot deport asylum seekers if they face danger in their countries of origin. The government grants some African migrants protection but does not formally recognise them as refugees.

One of the Sudanese leaders of the protest, who identified himself only as Konda, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "We want the government to pay attention. All the doors have closed - people have nowhere to go, nothing to do. The immigration police are working all the time catching people.

"You go to the interior ministry to get a visa, there are long lines [and] in the end you don't get a visa. You're on the street, they catch you without a visa - you go to jail."

He added: "A large portion of the people are in jail now. We want to say that we deserve to live, we deserve human rights."

The migrants said they plan to hold further demonstrations outside UN offices and foreign embassies in Tel Aviv on Monday.