By Asma Smadhi | May 10 2013attack , CEMAT , Christopher Stevens , Libya , U.S. Embassy ,
Nearly eight months after attacks on the U.S. Embassy and American Cooperative School in Tunis, the American government continues to issue warnings about travel to Tunisia and provide additional pay for government employees stationed in the country.
Several days after U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in assaults in Libya, rioters and extremists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tunis September 14 of 2012, resulting in the deaths of four Tunisians. The attackers were allegedly protesting a low-budget anti-Muslim video clip.
A committee in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing this Wednesday to examine whether the administration of President Barack Obama mishandled the incident in Libya.
On the day of the attack in Tunis, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Tunisia. But since March 13, the “U.S. Embassy in Tunis is no longer on ordered departure status, but continues to operate with limited staffing due to security concerns,” according to the U.S. State Department website.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs has issued several Travel Warnings on its official website since September 2012 cautioning U.S. citizens about the risks of visiting Tunisia.
The various Travel Warnings have highlighted the instability of the security situation as “sporadic episodes of civil unrest” continue to take place in Tunisia. The street that leads to the embassy headquarters in the Lac suburb of Tunis remains blocked and a significant security presence is visible in the area.
Starting October 7, 2012, employees of the State Department in Tunisia qualify for a Danger Pay Allowance at a 25 percent rate of Basic Compensation, equal to the rates set for Sudan and Somalia.
The attacks affected various American organizations operating in Tunisia and U.S. citizens who were either studying or working in the country.
“Educational exchanges remain an important part of the outreach programs coordinated by the U.S. Embassy in Tunis,” said Stephen Kochuba, the spokesperson for the embassy in Tunis.
Laryssa Chomiak, head of CEMAT (the Tunisian branch of the American Institute for Maghrib Studies) told Tunisia Live that various exchange programs, such as the Fulbright for U.S. citizens, were suspended following the attacks as American students and scholars were called back to their home country. Some students and scholars were prohibited by their universities from returning to Tunisia, Chomiak said.
“There are currently no American Fulbright participants in Tunisia and we look forward to resuming the Fulbright program for visiting American professors and students when conditions permit,” Kochuba said.
He added that a new scholarship program for Tunisian students has recently been initiated. The Thomas Jefferson Scholarship program is a 10 million dollar initiative that will send approximately 200 Tunisian students over the next three years to the U.S. for one year of study at American universities and community colleges.
Kochuba also said that private American citizens and NGOs are encouraged to refer to the consular announcements issued by the State Department, but must ultimately make independent decisions about travel to Tunisia.