A fire broke out yesterday in the Shousha refugee camp in southeastern Tunisia, burning two tents belonging to Somali families.
According to Dario Cardinali, a UNHCR public relations officer in the southeastern town of Zarzis, a resident’s cigarette butt started the fire, which led a gas cooker in the first tent to explode. The fire then spread to a neighboring tent before it was extinguished.
Two refugees were harmed in the accident and later admitted to the hospital.
Cardinali explained that residents of the camp are warned against smoking in the immediate proximity of the tents.
He said that in October the kitchens that used to serve food to all of the camp’s residents were closed and each family is now provided with a gas cooker to do their own cooking.
He assured that the affected refugees will be given new tents.
But the accident, which is not the first such incident since the camp was established in March 2011, sheds light on the safety of refugees.
Formerly a carpenter, Moussa Ibrahim is a Chadian refugee who fled Libya in March 2011 as the uprising against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was intensifying. He said he believes the camp is unsafe.
“Everybody knows about it, including the UNHCR itself. Security is terrible here. The refugees are not happy,” he said.
The camp’s living conditions compound the concerns of residents, who have failed to obtain asylum abroad and are living in the camp for an indeterminate period of time.
Ibrahim, along with 273 other refugees in the camp who had their requests for resettlement rejected by the UNHCR, met with a delegation of Tunisian ministers this afternoon to discuss their situation.
He said UNHCR is “unfair with failed asylum seekers of the camp” and hopes that human rights organizations from Tunisia and abroad can study their files or help them integrate into Tunisian society. Ibrahim categorically dismissed any thought of returning to neighboring Libya because of continuing instability.
“We have hope in humanitarian organizations to uphold our rights as refugees and asylum seekers,” Ibrahim concluded.
The Shousha refugee camp currently houses 1,524 residents, most of whom are refugees waiting to have their situation settled by UNHCR and other international organizations before the closure of the camp in June 2013.
Around 400 residents living in the camp had their requests for resettlement in Western countries turned down.
Asylum seekers can appeal in case of rejection. If their second attempt at asylum fails, the International Organization for Migration will offer them reintegration packages to voluntarily repatriate them.
“After that, the rejected asylum seeker will be considered as an illegal migrant in Tunisia,” Cardinali said.