02. Juli 2013 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Tunesien, Lager Choucha Schließung, Reportage (Moez Al-Jamai) · Kategorien: Tunesien · Tags: ,

Tunis Choucha Camp

www.correspondents.org/node/2946

Libyan refugees can neither return nor stay in Choucha
A Refuge No More
Camp Choucha officially closed on June 30 but some refugees are refusing to go.
1/7/2013 | Ben Gardane

Although United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officially closed Choucha Camp— 10 kilometers away from the Tunisian-Libyan border— on June 30, hundreds of refugees are refusing to leave the facility that was opened in 2011 to accommodate thousands of refugees, mostly from Libya, following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

At the front gate of the camp, 49-year-old Somali Saeed Sulaiman stood watching his fellow refugees scramble to get on buses and trucks ready to leave the camp. “How could they take such a decision that demonstrates a state of slavery? Days ago, we agreed that we would rather die on the camp’s ground than be deprived of the decent life our Tunisian friends have gained in Europe, America and Australia,” Sulaiman said.

Sulaiman is one of thousands of Somalis who arrived to Choucha Camp in March 2011 seeking a safe refuge when armed clashes broke out between the former Libyan regime’s opponents and supporters.

Sulaiman had worked in construction in Misrata where he earned seven dollars a day, enabling him to provide a decent living for his family and educate his children.  All of that changed when civil war broke out in his country.  “My rebellion against violated human rights at Choucha Camp deprived me my right of resettlement. The army tried to impose a military lifestyle, leading dozens of Somalis to object to strict decisions concerning their facilitated movement inside and outside the camp, but, in consequence, their identities were listed under dangerous and rebellious individuals,” he claimed.

Not abandoning refugees

UNHCR, however, insists that closing the Choucha Camp does not mean cancelling assistance to the refugees.

“We will not abandon the refugees who were denied resettlement in European and American countries and we will coordinate with the Tunisian authorities to follow up their social status and integration into the urban areas,” a UNHCR official stated.

The UNHCR official added that since the establishment of the camp, they have succeeded in resettling over 4,000 refugees who currently enjoy all social and civil rights in their host countries.

UNHCR added that applications for those who were denied the right of asylum have been rejected for not meeting the standards defined by the International Convention for Resettlement signatory states, especially since dozens of them resided in the camp since few months only after failing to illegally immigrate to Italy and the rest arrived to the camp after the deadline for the registration in the official list of Libyan war refugees.

On Wednesday 26 June, 130 refugees were approved to permanently leave the camp and were admitted in college dormitories in Medenine, 500 kilometers southeast of Tunisia.

Head of the Red Crescent Authority in Medenine Mongi Slim said, “We will help them integrate into the Tunisian society and help them overcome difficulties they might face related to language and traditions. We will help them find a home, get a job, grant each one of them an amount of 5,000 dinars (US $3,039) to establish micro-enterprises and ensure receiving free medical services. The Tunisian authorities will also allow them to move freely between cities and travel to Libya.” Slim believes it is not feasible for refugees to stay at the camp as they will face hunger and thirst upon cutoff of all services inside the camp including electricity and water on June 30.

A chance at resettlement

Twenty-eight year-old Ethiopian Mohamed Adam Ali agreed with Sulaiman and thus joined the dozens of Africans who declared a state of rebellion inside the camp on June 30. “Why would the UNHCR ignite confrontations with the Tunisian army who provided full protection for the refugees and succeeded in managing their life inside the camp?” he asked.

Ali said he arrived to Choucha Camp in December 2012 after being rescued by the Tunisian coastguard. “We do not enjoy the privilege of resettlement,” he added.

Ali lamented that proposals of the Commissioner and the Tunisian Ministry of Social Affairs do not guarantee the lifestyle he dreamt about in Europe. “It is time to change the International Convention for Resettlement regulations to guarantee civil rights of colored people who fled civil wars. We would rather die in Tunisia if we cannot obtain the nationality of this country,” he said.

The status of 22 Palestinians residing in Choucha Camp differed from that of the Africans in terms of legal settlement in south Tunisia as they were only granted non-resident refugees’ cards.

An official source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented, “We understand the Palestinians‘ fear of the unknown fate after closing Choucha Camp, but we cannot let our emotions interfere with international conventions, as Tunisia is a member of the Arab League and it signed the Right of Return of Palestinians Protocol in 19865, which prevents it from resettling Palestinians on its territory.”

They isolated us and we rebelled

Choucha Camp embraced three Palestinian women raising six children, the ages of whom ranged between three and eight years old. The Tunisian army isolated them with the rest of the Palestinian refugees for two years and prevented them from addressing the media, according to 41-year-old Samer Tamim.

“I arrived to Tunisia few months after the outbreak of February 17, 2011 revolution when I lost my job as a translator at a governmental.  As soon as we arrived, they allocated a space for us inside the camp and warned all Palestinians against addressing the media. We complied with these unusual procedures hoping to be resettled at one of the Western Countries, but we were shocked when our demands were rejected. Therefore, we decided to rebel against the camp’s regulations and head to Tunis.”

He added that they were received by the Political Advisor of the Tunisian President Aziz Krishan, but months went by without keeping any promise of resettlement.

“Same attempts of the Minister of Social Affairs Khalil Zaouiahave failed despite visiting the camp few weeks ago and demonstrating a real interest in the Palestinians file,” he stressed.

Samer was not surprised to rejecting Palestinians’ resettlement at European and American countries and directed some unusual accusations to Israel as playing an important role in denying them of such right. He accused the Israeli Mossad, penetrated in human rights bodies, of submitting reports describing Palestinians refugees as terrorists, according to him.

Palestinians at Choucha Camp demanded Qatar to assume responsibility and help them travel and permanently settle at one of the Arab Gulf states attributing such demand to Qatar’s involvement in the recent political crises of the Arab Spring countries that lead to displacement of dozens of Palestinians and Iraqis who succeeded in integrating into the Libyan community years ago.

Choucha Camp was not just a safe place for African and Arab refugees since two members of former regime’s intelligence sought refuge inside the camp under protection of the Tunisian army.

We are under the threat of death

Former Libyan intelligence officer Jamal Osman said, “Our eviction from Choucha Camp poses a significant threat to our lives and would lead to our assassination especially since the rebels of Zintan city offered a bounty of a billion dimes for our death.”

Osman referred to the fact that during their stay at Choucha Camp for two years, they changed tents repeatedly for security reasons imposed by the Tunisian army, upon discovering that a number of Libyan rebels intend to sneak to the camp and “investigation revealed that they were preparing to assassinate us,” he said.

His colleague Tarek Mohamed added, “We entered Tunisia illegally with the help of He recalls his colleague Tariq Mohammed „entered Tunisian territory illegally with the help of a number of petrol smugglers who received 100,ooo Libyan dinars for this service.” He explained that they worked for the Libyan intelligence for 16 years and their missions included interrogation of Gaddafi’s opponents. “We have practiced unjustified torture as objection to Colonel’s instructions meant a death sentence. We were wrong not to defectand join the rebels,” he confessed.

On the officers’ fate after closing the camp, a military official in charge of guarding the camp, said, “We have succeeded in securing their lives for two years, but our role is now over and they may ask for political asylum in Tunisia or appeal to the Tunisian Interior Ministry.” He added, “Hundreds of soldiers and officers have participated over the past two years in securing and managing Choucha Camp. On June 30, we will comply with instructions and will not allow any refugee to stay at the camp. We will force them to respect the UNHCR and Tunisian Authorities’ decisions. Our mission is to mainly protect the borders against terrorists’ attacks.”

An unknown fate awaits the refugees who refused to integrate into the Tunisian society, which inspired the Tunisian Forum for Social and Political Rights to announce an international campaign to save their lives and warn against any physical assault against them if they refused to evacuate.

Head of the Forum Abdulrahman Huthaili demanded the international conference to be held urgently to consider the status of those who suffered years of homelessness and displacement fleeing the hell of war raging between the political parties.

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