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Tunisia: Several killed in fire in tent city in the sand

Press Release: Afrique-Europe-Interact/Welcome to Europe (24.05.)

Thousands of sub-Saharan refugees and migrants trapped in Choucha camp near Libyan border – many flee back to Libya

Choucha is one of four camps situated at the open Tunisian-Libyan border between Ben Guardane und Ras Jdir. It was set up by UNHCR, the Red Cross and Red Crescent on 24/02/11 shortly after the fighting in Libya had started when mainly Egyptians and Bangladeshis arrived. Here, in a desert-like area, between 4,000 and 5,000 sub-Saharan, East African and other refugees from 30 countries have to live in tents at the moment if they want to apply for protection with UNHCR. Those who have money and passports can, in principle, travel to the interior of the country, but in reality this turns out to be (almost) impossible because of controls by the Tunisian police and well as military. According to UNHCR, about 3,800 of the inhabitants of the tent city are registered as refugees or asylum seekers, and a majority of them have already been living there for between two and four months. This situation, called a “second displacement” by the UNHCR spokesman, concerns mainly refugees from countries to which they cannot return, such as Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Ivory Coast or Iraq. No end to the emergency accommodation in sandy tents, with completely improvised infrastructure and bad water quality, is in sight for the refugees. Over the last weeks about 700 refugees from the camp have already returned to Libya to board one of the overcrowded boats to Italy, despite knowing about the life-threatening dangers associated with the passage that at the moment is cheap. The deadly risk is accepted in view of the unbearable and uncertain situation at Choucha camp. According to Firas Kayal, UNHCR spokesman on the spot, there are worldwide only 900 consents to resettlement, i.e. acceptance by a safe third country. This is contrasted by the need for approximately 6,000 offers to be able to fly out the sub-Saharan and other refugees from Libya registered with UNHCR in Tunisia and Egypt.

In comparison to the tens of thousands who have already left for their countries of origin or have been returned, and in particular as regards those about one hundred thousand refugees of Libyan origin who have been received with solidarity, provided for and part of whom have been accommodated in private homes in Tunisia, this number looks absolutely ludicrous. Nevertheless, particularly EU governments so far fail to show even the slightest sign of solidarity regarding the acceptance of refugees.

In the night of 21/05, people at Choucha camp were again faced with an alarming worsening of the situation when a fire broke out in the tent city. 21 tents were burnt and four people died, including a baby. In connection with the panic the fire caused, internal conflicts along the lines of origin and religion have now broken out. Furthermore, this incident reinforced the feelings of insecurity and hopelessness at the camp and as well the decision of many refugees, rather to make the dangerous journey to Libya again, and also their willingness to protest.

The refugees and also UNHCR expect, in the light of the inhumane situation in the refugee camps at the Libyan borders, which are always kept open by Tunisia and Egypt, that the borders will be finally opened and refugees from this region will be accepted by Europe, too.

Delegation to Tunisia of the Afrique-Europe-Interact and Welcome to Europe networks And

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