Monthly Archives: March 2016


The Life Cycle of a Refugee Camp Along the Tunisia-Libya Border

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.


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


Libyans Arrested in Gafsa and in Ben Guerdene for Bearing Weapons

On Sunday night, October 2nd, National Guard units in Gafsa arrested seven Libyans in the Belkheer area.  According to statements delivered to TAP by higher security personnel, preliminary investigations revealed that those arrested left the city of Medenine using a Tunisian taxi and were trying to reach Algeria illegally, without passports, when they were arrested.  As a result of thorough investigations conducted in Tunis, detectives discovered that these men are pro-Qadhafi soldiers who entered in Tunisia illegally.  The group of men confessed that they sold one Kalashnikov and ammunition to a resident of Ben Guerdene — who has since been arrested, as well — for 700 Dinars. The men have been accused of possessing Kalashnikovs and of hiding ammunition in the Tunisian Eastern South, and they are currently awaiting justice.  The Anti-Terrorism Brigade units have uncovered two hidden Kalashnikovs, and investigations continue to find the rest.

Source: Business News, Le Temps, Maghreb


Jribi: PDP has Always been from the Center-Left

Maya Jeribi

Maya Jribi, Secretary General of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) gave an exclusive interview to Le Quotidien newspaper on October 4th. The interview focused on several topics relating to the upcoming Constituent Assembly elections and the politics of the PDP.

On the progress of the process of modernizations of the PDP:

 Jeribi underlined that the PDP is in a  process of transformation. All members of the electoral lists have received training about communications techniques and the ideas of the party program. She also added that the PDP has succeed to attract many wealthy people, businessmen, women, youth, unemployed persons and people of the middle class.

Explanations regarding the resignation of some PDP activists: 

Jribi claimed that the real phenomenon of the PDP is the membership to the party not the resignations. The general secretary added that before January 14th, they were only a few hundred and they planed to participate in the election in order to denounce the non democratic nature of the old regime. Their goal since the revolution is to serve their country and build a democracy . Because of the high level of competition for placement on the the electoral lists,  they had a process of internal elections but a lot of activists did not agree with this practice and resigned.

Explaining why the PDP claimed to be from the progressive and secular left, before helping Islamists and then the liberals:

Jribi stated that this behavior shows that the PDP is a party who is able to adapt in different situations. Before the revolution, the party was a radical opponent to the regime. After January 14, the party is ready to build a new democratic Tunisia. She also added that the party has a political,economic and social programs developed from certain viewpoints and that the PDP has always been from the center-left.

The Islamist party Ennahda was your partner in 2005 and is now your enemy. What happend ? 

Jribi explained that Ennada is not her enemy but her political adversary. She also declared that the PDP always thought that evolution and development  in Arab counties is not possible without the integration of Islamic movements into the political arena. But, this coalition needs Islamists who accept and respect the rules of democracy. She added that Ennahda has a three-sided method of speaking: a type of speech during meetings, another speech in front of the media and a different one in mosques. Jribi accuesed them of using mosques to present its campaign even though it signed on October 18, 2005 an affirmation of neutrality for places of worship.

There are differences between rich parties like the PDP and poor parties. Does this affect the principal of equality and a competition based on programs ? 

Jribi stated that the PDP did not receive any dollar from foreign funds, unlike other parties. PDP accounts are transparent. She added that the revolution has also liberated the business community and that is why a lot of businessmen helped fund various parties.



ISIE Justifies Restrictions on Foreign Journalists

ISIE's decision to forbid foreign journalists from contacting candidates is creating a polemic.

In a press conference organized on October 4th in the Social and Economic Center of Tunis, the High Authority for the Elections “ ISIE “ gave a first feedback about the electoral campaign, but also explained why foreign media are foribidden from contacting the candidates. Kamel Jendoubi, President of the ISIE, said that the high authority wants to guarantee the parity between the different lists of candidates, and asserted that the foreign media is going to favour some candidates.

Souad Triki Kalai, Vice President of the ISIE, added that: “We are in a sensitive stage as the elections of the Constituent Assembly will take place soon. Foreign media could influence the choice of Tunisian electors.”

“We did not say that foreign media won’t cover the elections,” stated the president of the ISIE. Foreign media could cover all the events during the electoral period. They could organize meetings and discussions with commentators or experts.

On the other hand, Sten Inge Jà¸rgensen, a journalist working for a Norwegian newspaper, thinks that political parties should take such decisions themselves. According to him, political parties in every country have to consider how much time they want to spend with the foreign or the national media. Jà¸rgensen also added: “The absolute majority prioritizes national media even without such a law.”

ISIE’s decision to not allow foreign media to contact candidates is creating a big polemic. The foreign media will have difficulties to cover the first democratic elections in the Arab world. Moreover, during the conference many Tunisian journalists called upon the ISIE to find a solution to this problem, which also affects them. In other words, both the local and the foreign media have to adapt to ISIE’s decision.


The Third Day of the Campaign: Slow Start

The electoral campaign for the October 23rd Constituent Assembly election started on October 1st and will be conducted until midnight on October 21st. In Manouba, parties like Afek Tounes, PDP, PDM and also  the independent list  “Amal” are motivating people to vote. They distributed their electoral declaration and some of them organized a press conference in order to present their political program.

In Sidi Bouzid, Nabeul, and Siliena the electoral campaign started with  a very slow mood. Only a few lists has been posted in Sidi Bouzid, this was due to the fact that electoral grants have not been disbursed until today. Some candidates were unable even to afford printing their own lists to post on dedicated public walls. Some independent lists, like “for an equal constitution between the regions,”  retired from the campaign due to the lack of funds.

In Bizerte, some electoral posters and lists have been removed and damaged. The members of “Bizerte Al Oum,” the independent lists Tarak Asslema and Algahd (tomorrow) organized a press conference to introduce their campaign.

Moderate Islamist party Ennahda and the Democratic Modernist Poll (PDM) are pervasive in most districts. In Kairouan only 140 of the places dedicated for electoral lists out of 300 have been reserved because of limited space and the disinterest of the municipality. By Monday in Kairouan, only 9 lists out of 73 were posted.

Source: la Presse, El Maghreb


TAV Defends Enfidha Airport Deal as Strike Continues at Monastir Airport

On the 210th day of the strike at the Monastir airport, a few people were assembled under a tent in a corner of the front parking lot. Strikers were complaining about the policy of Turkish company Tepe Akfen Venture Tunisia (TAV) and accusing them of disrespecting the clauses of a concession contract.

The protesters believe that the Turkish investor is not supposed to make use of the Monastir Airport and that the deal signed between TAV and the former regime has no legitimacy.

“TAV was supposed to create new markets, not take possession of Monastir Airport clients,” said Souad Atis, a TAV employee at the Monastir Airport. “Same thing in terms of manpower, they were supposed to create job opportunities in the region of Enfidha, Zaghouan and Hammamet, but, all they've done is to relocate the staff from here.”

Protestors belonged to practically all categories of employment within the airport. Their unanimous concern was the lack of traffic. “TAV uses ˜North Monastir' Airport to promote the Enfidha airport overseas to gain from the reputation of the Monastir airport, and its basically English and German customers,” claimed Salem Gouissem, an employer in Dufry, the Swiss duty free company. “We want the flights back to the airport at the same average of 2008; we want the airport to belong again to the Office of Civil Aviation and Airports.”

Houda Skanes Hotel closed due to the lack of tourists from the region.

Bachir Bouraoui, president of the committee of protection of the airport of Monastir, was particularly alarmed by the impact of the lack of flights on the region, both economically and, to some extent, emotionally. Bouraoui pointed out that some hotels nearby the airport had been closed, and many employees lost their jobs. Not only did hotel employees suffer, he explained; taxi drivers and artisans have been put out of action.

Three minutes away from the airport, Houda Skanes Hotel is closed one year after the Turkish investor took ownership of Monastir Airport and opened the Enfidha airport. The owner had to lay off some of the personnel and kept some of them to work as security guards in the hotel.

TAV Tunisia SA, created to implement the two concession contracts by the project promoter, Turkish TAV Holding AS Havalimanlari, says that they have been open and honest throughout the project.

“Our offer was selected by reason of its leading in meeting the standards of the public tender among several other reputable international competitors,” said an anonymous source from within TAV Tunisia SA.

The gleaming Enfidha-Hammamet Airport is open for business, though traffic was slow in this September 21st, 2011 photo.

The same source wondered about the protestors’ claims, saying, “We handle the same airports, we pay the same taxes, and we have no interest in diverting flights from one airport to another.”

Clarifying the legal matters, the source said, “The concession agreement stipulates that the company maintain in service Monastir airport during the concession period, with a minimum of 1.5 million passengers per year. TAV is doing everything to meet this particular clause. …We actually aim for 10 million passengers per year to Tunisia through both airports and are working towards fulfilling it.”

Those who have been working in TAV for two years were granted tenure and their salaries have been raised. Our source also pointed out that the Turkish investor has provided transportation and food because they needed experienced personnel to proceed with a 550-million-Euro project.

Pairing the corporation with the future of Tunisia, the source said, “Recent surveys proved that satisfied passengers spend more during their stay. Passengers do not come to see the airport, they come to the country. Let us impress them for further business opportunities and a better image of the country. We have been contributing to promoting Tunisia alongside the National Agency of Tourism. …Tunisia needs such constructions. The Monastir Airport’s restricted capacity inevitably affects the quality of service of airlines.”

TAV promotes for Tunisia as a destination, not the airport, and travel agencies are in charge of promoting the destinations. So if one of their clients is going to Hammamet, the travel agency would direct them to Enfidha airport since it is only 20 minutes from their destination.

Still, it looks like the protestors are not going to easily give up their fight. “The tent will not be removed until we see the planes landing on the airport,” said Tunisair official Amel Backouch. “A signature is not sufficient.”


Sakher el-Matri Sentenced to Two More Years in Prison

Sakher El-Materi was sentenced yesterday to two years in prison and a fine of two thousand Dinars.

The sixth criminal district investigated yesterday the involvement of Sakher el-Matri Ben Ali's son in law in a drug case. Investigations found illicit drugs in house that Sakher el-Matri used to live in, in the presidential residence in Dar Esslam.

The drugs found are classified by law in table B, included in which is hashish. Anti-Drug agents found substantial amounts of these drugs within his residence.

Source: Assabah


Podcast: Press Headlines, October 4th, 2011

Here are the top stories from Tunisia, October 4th, 2011:


ISIE: First Feedback About the Electoral Campaign

In a press conference organized on October 4th in the Social and Economic Center of Tunis, the High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) gave its first feedback about the current electoral campaign for the Constituent Assembly. The president of the ISIE, Kamel Jendoubi, stated that the beginning of the campaign is slow owing to a lack of experience, but no major problem were detected.

Mr. Jendoubi also added that 810 observers are monitoring the campaign to detect any violation of the electoral law. The monitors will also visit the headquarters of the parties and the independent candidates to check if they did not surpass the exact amount of the electoral expenses allowed, which is equal to three times the amount of the donation.

There is also a team that monitors the media to maintain its neutrality, and the recruitment of national and foreign observers is ongoing until October 8th.

Electoral kits that contain polling boxes and seals are available and will be transferred to polling stations. The ISIE received 30,000 polling booths, 200,000 seals and 120,000 polling boxes.

An awareness campaign will take place on October 10th under the name “Tunisia is voting “ (???? ?????)

In terms of financing the parties and independent lists, the head of the ISIE declared that the role of the High Authority is limited, and that the Finance ministry is in charge of funding the parties. Delays of funding are due to logistical problems and technical difficulties, arising because of the large number of parties and independent candidates. 75% of the lists (parties+independent) got 50% of the public donation of 9.500.000 TND.

Concerning the Tunisian voters in Canada, the Canadian government does not allow Tunisians to vote, not even in Consulates and embassies. Souad Triki Kalai, vice-president of the ISIE declared: “Nothing should be banned in Consulates and Embassies as it belongs to the Tunisian territory.” As a consequence, the ISIE is working on allowing Tunisians living in Canada to vote, and plans to organize its polling stations so that the Canadian security forces will not have to interfere.


Interim President Mbazaa: I Will Not Stay After the Elections

Interim president Foued Mbazaa announced yesterday he will not stay in office after the October 23rd Constituent Assembly elections. The Constituent Assembly is charged with forming a new transitional government and rewriting the Tunisian constitution.

Mbazaa left the door open to future political participation by saying that he will keep his interest in politics. He said he is “confident” about the October 23rd election and hopes for a free, transparent, and democratic process that will produce a constitution to serve as the “legitimate authority” the people have waited for.

Mbazaa made his remarks at the 62nd session of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR in Geneva.

Mbazaa outlined the political scene in Tunisia for the other attendees, noting that in addition to a large presence of independent candidates, the number of political parties climbed to 115 after the revolution, 70 of which have registered candidate lists.  The interim government entrusted the Independent High Authority of the Election (ISIE) with the organization of the campaign technically as well as logistically.

Concerning the issue of refugees in Tunisia, Mbazaa emphasized the Tunisian efforts to provide comfortable conditions for Libyan refugees, even though Tunisia itself was facing alarming difficulties in its post-revolution phase. He noted the important role of international NGOs in aiding and finding host countries  for the displaced people, in particular a total of 4,000 African refugees unable to return to their homeland.

The  total number of refugees in Tunisia so far reached 900,000 from all over the world, camping for months on the Tunisian-Libyan borders. The Tunisian welcome to all these guests was lauded by attendees of the UNHC event.

Mbazaa’s visit included a meeting with the Council of State of Geneva, Mark Muller, where they discussed issues related to the democratic transition and the future elections.

Source: La Presse