Evacuations From Tunisian Transit Camps May End Sunday Due To Shortage of Funds
"If these evacuation flights stop on Sunday, the consequences could be devastating," says Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International, who is currently in Tunisia looking into the situation facing those fleeing Libya. "While government leaders may not be able to agree on how to stop Gaddafi, surely they can agree to provide the necessary funding to help these victims of this violence return home."
The continuation of the flights is essential to maintaining the full cooperation of the Tunisian government. Tunisia's government is one in transition, and must be supported as it continues to bear the burden of a large unemployed population on its border. One Tunisian government official told Refugees International that decongesting the camps is their number one priority, and called for additional flights to expedite the process.
Should the goodwill of the Tunisian government be tested, there is a very real worry amongst the aid community that the government might close its border with Libya. Any border closure during such a time of crisis would be extremely dangerous for those attempting to flee the escalating violence inside Libya. Refugees International is particularly concerned about the impact such a closure could have on sub-Saharan Africans, who have been systematically targeted for attacks within Libya.
A halt to the evacuations could also damage morale within the transit camp itself. For the moment, the security situation at Shousha camp is stable. However, many of those RI interviewed in the camp today expressed frustration over the wait to return home. There is a significant risk that the tension could boil over once residents learn that evacuations have been halted.
"The timing of this stoppage couldn't be worse for people here, as the number of people being evacuated is finally beginning to keep pace with the number of those arriving," continued Michel Gabaudan. "Allowing the flights to stop would represent a betrayal of the generosity shown by the Tunisian government, and could seriously compromise security in the camp itself. For these reasons, we are calling on members of the League of Arab states and the governments of those third country nationals to immediately provide the necessary funding to keep the repatriation operation to move forward. "
Michel Gabaudan is with a Refugees International team in Tunisia to assess the situation for Libyans who have fled the current fighting. The team flies to Cairo on Friday, March 18.
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org.
For Immediate Release: March 17, 2011
Contact: Dara McLeod - +1 240 486 3011