Briefing Notes, 27 May 2011
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 27 May 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
This week saw serious disruption at the Choucha camp near the Tunisia – Libya border where around 4,000 migrant workers and refugees from the conflict in Libya are accommodated pending humanitarian evacuation to their countries of origin or other solutions.
Four Eritreans died in a fire in the Eritrean block of the camp on Sunday night as residents were sleeping. Twenty tents were lost. At the time, the Choucha camp was hosting some 4,500 people – mostly Somalis, Eritreans, and Sudanese. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
The problems continued on Monday when a large group of migrant workers surrounded UNHCR's office at the camp, seeking immediate resettlement. UNHCR staff and other humanitarian workers received death threats and were forced to withdraw.
Some of the demonstrators then blocked the main highway between the Ras Ajdir border point and the rest of Tunisia, prompting anger among the local Tunisian community. Early on Tuesday morning violence erupted among various groups in the camp and at least two deaths were reported. Despite the efforts of the Tunisian military to prevent clashes, the situation deteriorated further as some 500 local Tunisians descended on the camp. In the chaos more tents were looted and burned. Many camp residents fled to the surrounding desert. Order was restored by the Tunisian authorities by Tuesday evening, but for a full day assistance to the camp was impossible.
On Wednesday morning, a small inter-agency team, led by UNHCR, arrived to find that two thirds of the camp had been destroyed or looted. In coordination with UNHCR, the Tunisian army distributed mattresses, blankets and food to camp residents, who had lost most if not all of their belongings. At present, many of the people from the Choucha camp are staying either in makeshift tents or in the open. As of yesterday morning, most of the agencies and NGOs had returned to the camp and resumed their activities.
Efforts to ease tension are currently underway. UNHCR staff have been meeting with representatives of all the communities in the Choucha camp as well as with the Tunisian central and local authorities. Security at the camp, as well as finding separate solutions for migrants and refugees are at the top of the agenda.
UNHCR is again calling on donor and resettlement countries to contribute additional help for the humanitarian evacuation programme carried out by IOM, and to offer additional resettlement slots for refugees. Tunisia has, since February, seen massive displacement across its border from Libya and the resulting pressures need easing. UNHCR has requested $80 million for the emergency in Tunisia between March and August this year. So far we have received just over $48 million.
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