African migrants walk on a road after choosing to permanently leave their open detention facility
African migrants walk out of their open detention facility Reuters

A group of 150 African migrants has left an "open" Israeli detention facility in protest against a law that allows their indefinite detention.

The migrants will try to reach Jerusalem to rally against the new legislation, which stipulates that those caught entering the country illegally could be jailed for up to a year, after which they are moved to a new detention facility.

Israel regards its 50,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants as illegal job-seekers.

Previous legislation, the Infiltration Law, allowed Israel to jail migrants for three years, pending a review of their refugee status, and set a 90-day deadline for detainees to be released. It was overturned by the high court and replaced by a law that allows open-ended detention of migrants in a detention centre that can hold 400 people.

Detainees are allowed to leave during the day but must be back in the premises by nightfall.

More than 135 Sudanese refugees refused to return to the centre, according to Cheska Katz of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants rights group, and instead headed for Jerusalem, 75km away.

"They aren't trying to elude the authorities. Their aim is to reach the Knesset (parliament) and ask for their freedom and to be recognised as refugees," a march activist said.

The detainees face detention in a standard jail if they do not get back in 48 hours.

The recent legislation on illegal immigration was approved with the support of Israeli right-wing MPs including members of the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home), an ultra-nationalist and religious Zionist political party.

Data published by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority showed that only four applicants have been granted refugee status in Israel in 2013 out of 2,593 applicants.

In October, the New York Times rejected a documentary featuring non-Jewish African migrants in Israel despite having originally commissioned it, according to the film's producers.

The documentary, Israel's new racism: the persecution of African migrants in the Holy Land, was produced by Israeli journalist David Sheen and American author and journalist Max Blumenthal.