A widely-watched investigative report on the Ettounisya television station has highlighted the difficult circumstances faced by Tunisians in Syria, whether they are residing in the country by choice or have been detained because they came to fight in the war.
Tunisian journalist Zouhair Letaief, host of the Fi Samim program, reported from Damascus in an episode aired April 23 that detailed the extent to which Tunisians in Syria feel neglected by the Tunisian government.
The Tunisian embassy in Syria has been closed since February 2012 and three Tunisian students told Letaief that even though their lives are threatened by constant bombing, they are stuck in Damascus because they cannot process paperwork to leave the country.
A former employee at the Tunisian consulate in Damascus told Letaief that there are around 2000 Tunisians in Syria and most of them feel abandoned by their government.
“Some Tunisians have died because of the bombing; others are trapped outside of Damascus,” he said. “Some of them tried to go to Lebanon to fix their papers, but it wasn’t possible.”
Even for Tunisians who do not intend to leave, it can be difficult to pursue daily life since they cannot attain official recognition for marriages, deaths, or births, he added.
“There are Tunisians who are in trouble at the immigration office, as their residence here expired,” said student Nour Yahyaoui.
Letaief interviewed four detainees, three of whom were Tunisians who have been imprisoned for a year. They all paid a recruiter in order to get to Syria, and their reasons for doing so were similar: they wanted to join the fight against the Syrian government after seeing the atrocities of the war on news channels.
The three detainees said they were driven by their religion to “rescue” their “Syrian brothers and sisters,” as one said. One of the detainees asserted that President Moncef Marzouki’s decision to expel the Syrian ambassador from Tunisia last year signaled that the situation in Syria was disastrous.
In a press release issued April 22, the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that staff at the Tunisian embassy in Beirut is being enhanced in order to provide improved services to Tunisians in Syria.
But on Tuesday, families of Tunisians recruited to fight in Syria protested in front of the National Constituent Assembly building in Bardo, demanding a more efficient response from government officials.