The United Nations Refugee Agency has criticised Israel’s new detention laws as “indefinite” in a week where thousands of protesting African migrants took to the streets of Tel Aviv to voice their anger.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) lambasted Israel’s approach, in which migrants are sent to a new desert facility for an extended period without trial.

Refugee demo 5-1-14 006

African migrants march through Tel Aviv to protest against unfair treatment. Photo: Israel Sun.

Hundreds are being held at what is similar to a halfway house, where migrants are free to leave during the day, but must report back by nightfall.

Walpurga Englbrecht, UNHCR representative in Israel, said it “operates as a detention centre from where there is no release, which in effect means indefinite detention”.

She urged Israel to look for new solutions, saying that warehousing refugees was not “in line with the 1951 refugee convention”.

Thousands of illegal immigrants from Eritrea and Sudan marched against the new detention laws on Sunday and Monday, demanding the right to live and work in the country while their asylum bids are processed.

Critics say the new laws reflect the Israeli government’s view that non-Jewish immigration is a threat to the Jewish nature of the state.

However many say the migrants, who have been on a three-day strike, have singled out Israel as their destination purely for financial reasons, and that the state’s resources are unable to cope with such an influx.