Israel released hundreds of African migrants from an isolated desert detention center Wednesday, but barred them from entering major cities.
At least 600 migrants were set free from indefinite detention in the Negev desert – the second group to be released since authorities began allowing detainees to walk free Tuesday.
The migrants were released from detention after Israel's supreme court ruled detainees held for over a year had to be set free.
Around 50,000 African migrants are believed to be living in Israel – most are asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea. The ruling was expected to affect over 1,000 asylum seekers at the Holot Detention Center in Israel's southern Negev.
More than 1,700 migrants have been detained in the facility since 2012, when Israel passed the controversial “anti-infiltration” law. The legislation has been derided by human rights groups as excessively harsh on migrants.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued an influx of Africans threatens Israel's Jewish character. The Supreme Court has upheld the anti-infiltration law, but found migrants cannot be held for more than 12 months in detention.
While the ruling effectively reduced detention from 20 months to 12, it has left many recently freed migrants with nowhere to go.
"We don't know where to go, where we're going to sleep tonight," said Sudanese migrant Salah, according to AFP.
Another recently freed migrant told AFP he was released with just a sandwich, US$17 in his pocket, and nowhere to go.
Along with being barred from working, the migrants have also been banned from entering the cities of Tel Aviv and Eilat. The mayor of a third city, Arad, has also ordered police to block migrants from entering.
During an interview with Israel's Army Radio, Tel Aviv's mayor Ron Huldai condemned the bans as “racist.”
“You have to treat them as human beings and not to forget that our parents and grandparents were also refugees,” he said.