05 October 2011 10:41 am | | 18


Share     Share       Share     Share  

The Choucha refugee camp is located at the Ras Jedir borders, surrounded by desert

The Choucha refugee camp has seen its fair share of changes over the last seven months.  The camp – which sprouted up on February 24th, shortly after the conflict in Libya erupted – has acutely felt the developments of the situation in Libya, as well as the tensions that result from caring for over 3,000 multi-ethnic escapees from Libya, which is certainly no small undertaking.  Qaddafi may have escaped the country, but for a majority of Choucha’s inhabitants, that does not mean a return to Libya or to their original countries of origin.  Instead, many have settled down for the long haul, and in this period of limbo, they are both reflecting on their past and present successes, as well as anticipating future challenges.

A Rocky Beginning

The Tunisian Red Cross, UNHCR, and Islamic Relief Worldwide were the first responders to the Libya crisis at Ras Jedir along the Tunisia-Libya border, and they essentially built the Choucha refugee camp from the ground-up on this isolated desert landscape.  “Before, we just came here and 20,000 people were here, and we had just one distribution point for food…Then, people [wanted] to go home quickly, so [there were] quite a lot of problems,” commented Nanang Subana Dirja, Acting Head of Mission for Islamic Relief Worldwide, as he gave us a tour and recounted briefly the history of Choucha.

Islamic Relief Worldwide was one of the first organizations to respond to the Libya crisis at the Ras Jedir border

As Dirja expressed, the camp faced many difficulties from its inception, starting with the question of organization.  In the beginning, admitted refugees were separated into two sectors: one for families, and one for individuals. After frictions developed between the diverse camp inhabitants, however, management decided to investigate a different organizational approach.  The various clusters of NGOs running the camp – including the ICRC, Save the Children, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNHCR, the Tunisian Red Cross, and Islamic Relief Worldwide – decided to instead split the camp into six sectors.  Now, admitted refugees are divided based on their original ethnicities, whether they are Eritrean, Somalian, Sudanese, Nigerian, Oromo, Iraqi, Palestinian, Pakistani, Ghanian, Malian, or otherwise.  The common characteristic that they all share, however, is that they left the violence of their home countries in search of work in Libya before the war forced them to flee.

The Tunisian Army plays an active role in supervising camp security and in distributing food and water

Reorganization of Choucha did much to ameliorate tensions, but naturally the camp continued to encounter problems.  This past May, for example, refugees fed up with waiting and frustrated with being penned up within Choucha’s borders blocked the neighboring highway and burned areas of the camp.

Settlement

Yet, on the whole, Choucha camp appears to be learning from past experiences, and conditions have improved for the refugees currently living there.  According to Dirja, services are provided on time, and the camp is currently exceeding predetermined standards. Camp dwellers with whom we spoke affirmed these claims.

Although a majority of the refugees stay in Choucha for a period ranging between three and five months, there are also many who have been present in the camp since the beginning of the Libyan war, over seven months ago.  Those occupying the camp for longer periods of time have settled in and have attempted to bring the comforts of home to Choucha.  Satellite dishes adorn dozens of tents, and one refugee that we encountered was checking his Facebook page using an “Internet Everywhere”  USB key— apparently “everywhere” extends to refugee camps in the middle of the desert.

The camp's Sudanese soccer team trains before their match against Nigeria

As we wandered among the rows of tents, melodies of Lady Gaga blasted from some and mixed with regional music booming from others.  Flags from all over the world dotted the landscape, and it was clear that the camp draws together a medley of inhabitants hailing from various walks of life.  Some of the more artistic residents have used bottle caps to adorn the front areas of their tents with various designs, while others – evidently farmers – are growing small plots of wheat in front of their tents, using droppings from the camp’s goats as fertilizer.  The green from their crops adds color to the bleak desert scene.

More business-oriented camp dwellers have set up small shops selling clothes and cigarettes along the highway, and a street-side café is the newest initiative of several enterprising refugees.  For athletes, a soccer league has been established, with two matches held each day, culminating in a final championship reminiscent of the World Cup.  During our visit, we witnessed the Sudanese team’s training session and were told that the long-awaited match between Nigeria and Sudan would take place that night.  One refugee originally from Cote d’Ivoire informed us excitedly that he was rooting for Nigeria.

Some refugees have set up satellite dishes and can watch TV within their tents

Thus, while there are certainly complaints about the standard of living in Choucha, especially from those accustomed to a more luxurious lifestyle in Libya, it appears that most refugees are there to stay – at least for the time being – as they anxiously await their fate.

Future Prospects: “No Man’s Land”

The prospects of the Ras Jedir Choucha camp and its inhabitants remain hazy, as the camp dwellers truly are between a rock and a hard place.  Most fear returning to their original countries of origin because of persistent violence there.  “I can’t go back to my home because they will kill me…they are bombing my people,” said one refugee with whom we spoke, an engineer from the mountains of Sudan.  “I don’t have anything…Qaddafi took everything, even my passport and identity card,” said another, a 27 year-old, originally from Mali.

Artistically and agriculturally-inclined refugees have decorated the front areas of their tents and are growing crops

In addition, countless refugees are apprehensive about returning to their lives in Libya, where most would be regarded as mercenaries and killed.  Thus, a majority live with the hope that countries in the West, in Europe or the U.S, will accept them.  This desire was strikingly evident when Abdullah Mohamed showed us one of his prized accomplishments – a small area in front of his tent, in which he had grown wheat to spell out the message, “I love to live in the U.S.A.”

Yet, with fund limitations and numerous NGOs preparing to leave the camps shortly, Diraj anticipates difficult days ahead.  “You can imagine, 3,000 people have to be provided with meals, three times a day…The UNHCR thinks that they will be here for more than 3 months, so more money is needed…” he commented.

Moreover, the camp’s relationship with local Tunisians is about to be tested, as Choucha needs to lay-off more than 50% of the local Tunisian workers it currently employs for the daily functioning of the camp.  Excepting the “May incident” (in which the refugees’ blockade of the road disrupted the local economy), the camp’s relationship with the local population has remained a relatively healthy one.  We watched as one Tunisian camp guard originally from the Ras Jedir area played a traditional Sudanese game in the sand with a Sudanese refugee.  Beating the Sudanese resident at his own game, the Tunisian worker admitted to us, “He taught me well.”

Several enterprising refugees have set up a roadside cafe

Thus, as the camp’s multi-ethnic and multi-background inhabitants impatiently await the outcome of their situations, it is safe to say that their fates are intertwined with those of local Tunisians.  More than just the fact that the Tunisian government has signed onto basic UN principles preventing sending the refugees to any location that will endanger their lives, it is clear that an integrative approach respecting the needs of both the camp inhabitants and the local Tunisian population must be taken when moving forward.

 

A Sudanese refugee plays a traditionally Sudanese game in the sand with a Tunisian camp employee

Share     Share       Share     Share  

  From the same category

            

Motocross Racers in the Forests of Bizerte

Members ‘Freeze’ NCA Participation Over Reduced Sentences for Ben Ali Officials

Ben Ali Officials To Be Released in Revolution Killings Case

UGTT Union Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

            

Six Security Officers Injured in Rouhia Clashes

Tunisia Marks Martyrs Day with Calm Demonstrations

Martyrs’ Day Remembers Protesters Killed Under French Rule

Four Police Officers Convicted with Killing Protesters During Revolution

            

Libya Border Crossing Reopens After Protests

Polls Split on Ennahdha, Nidaa Tounes Support

Ministry Claims Facebook Photos Are Evidence of ‘Terrorist’ Camp

Ten Arrested Following Failed Bomb Making Attempt in Sfax


Comments (18)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Keurig Review | 28 November 2011
  2. manfaat gelombang elektromagnetik | 28 November 2011
  3. illum ir | 27 November 2011
  4. thermal image binoculars | 27 November 2011
  5. night pvs | 26 November 2011
  6. Buy Guaranteed Facebook Fans | 26 November 2011
  7. best water | 26 November 2011
  8. survival | 25 November 2011
  9. Business incentives | 25 November 2011
  10. How To Stop A Toothache | 25 November 2011
  11. PD5NSFE-0007Z02 | 24 November 2011
  12. best pre workout supplement | 23 November 2011
  13. Free online games | 21 November 2011
  14. Bloggstep | 19 November 2011
  15. E-bike | 12 November 2011
  1. Ali Sheikh says:

    The current initiative of vaccination campaign in Tunisia-Libya border camp shows dedication towards better quality of life through combating public health threats around the world. WHO and UNICEF are doing an excellent job in health sector.

  2. Gina Wilson says:

    Great article Emily! Very informative!

  3. Houda Mzioudet says:

    Great article Emily. I double like, quite informative.

Leave Feedback


  Follow us

Connect on YouTube Connect on Google+ Connect to itunes Subscribe via RSS Feed



  Latest Videos


Play Video

Motocross Racers in the Forests of Bizerte, Tunisia

Bizerte, the northernmost city in Africa, hosted the fourth round of the...

Play Video

Endangered Whale Brought Ashore in Tunis Suburb

Onlookers in the popular tourist spot of Sidi Bou Said, near Tunis,...

Play Video

'Kima Enti:' Mixing Tunisian Traditions With Modern Design

"Kima Enti" is a hand-made art and design project launched by independent...

Play Video

One-Year Anniversary of Chokri Belaid's Death

On February 6, 2014, family and supporters of slain Tunisian politician Chokri...

Play Video

Klay BBJ explains his arrest

Tunisia Live's Nissaf Slama interviews rapper Klay BBJ on his music, arrest,...



Tabbed Structure - Regular
UGTT Union Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize...
(887 Views)
Switzerland to Return $40 Million in Ben Ali...
(797 Views)
Tunisia Returns Stolen Ancient Artifact to Algeria...
(684 Views)
Unemployed Tunisians Risk Their Lives to Build Future...
(601 Views)
Ben Ali Officials To Be Released in Revolution...
(552 Views)
Members ‘Freeze’ NCA Participation Over Reduced Sentences for...
(390 Views)
Motocross Racers in the Forests of Bizerte...
(347 Views)
 
Motocross Racers in the Forests of Bizerte...
Unemployed Tunisians Risk Their Lives to Build Future in Europe...
Members ‘Freeze’ NCA Participation Over Reduced Sentences for Ben Ali Officials...
Ben Ali Officials To Be Released in Revolution Killings Case...
UGTT Union Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize...
Tunisia Returns Stolen Ancient Artifact to Algeria...
Switzerland to Return $40 Million in Ben Ali Assets to Tunisia...
Q & A: Issandr El Amrani on Tunisia’s Place in North...
Economy to ‘Remain Tough,’ 2015 to Be Worse, Says Government...