United Nations High Commission for Refugees representative Ursula Schulze-Aboubacar, has called on Tunisian authorities to support efforts to close the Shousha refugee camp in south-eastern Tunisia by June 2013.
Schulze-Aboubacar made the statement yesterday, following her meeting with Abderrazak Kilani, the minister in charge of relations with the National Constituent Assembly in Tunis, according to TAP.
Kilani also expressed his support for the inclusion of a clause in the new Tunisian constitution addressing the right to asylum and principle of non-expulsion for refugees.
The camp, close to the Libyan border, was set up to accommodate refugees and displaced persons following the outbreak of violence in Libya in 2011. At its peak the refugee camp held several hundred thousand people.
The camp still hosts 2124 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from East Africa (Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan) but also from some Sub-Saharan African countries, Palestinian territories and Iraq. On September, 20, Eritrean refugees started a sit-in at the Shousha camp calling for their resettlement in Western countries.
Nabil Ben Bekhti, protection officer of UNHCR Tunis office stated to Tunisia Live that the Shousha camp was conceived to be a “transition camp”, and that Tunisian authorities also supported its removal.
“We have undertaken steps towards helping Tunisia with the closure of the camp,” he explained.
“It is hoped that Tunisian authorities will coordinate with concerned ministries, ” Ben Bekhti continued, in order to have the camp dismantled by June 2013.
Ben Bekhti said that the closure of the camp will help the UNHCR concentrate its efforts on emergency aid in other conflicts zones such as Jordan where UNHCR is helping with 90,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict.
He also stated that the process of resettlement of refugees to Western countries in the last few months was made possible by “obliging host countries to accelerate procedures of hosting refugees and asylum seekers.” These efforts helped to relieve Tunisia from some of the burden of hosting this camp within its borders.