Delegate diary in Tunisia: frightened children arrive from Libya

Report
from British Red Cross
Published on 10 May 2011 View Original

Michael Kemsley, British Red Cross logistics delegate, reports back from Tunisia, where he’s been working at a transit camp for people fleeing ongoing conflict in Libya:

The camp has been getting a lot busier, with more children and families coming in. When the conflict started, most the refugees were men. Now there are even babies being born in the camp.

Aïcha has a son, just 20 days old. If the International Organization for Migration (IOM) can find the funds, the family should be out of the transit camp and back to their home country before the baby turns one month old. However, IOM’s funds are running low, and it’s becoming harder to help people get home.

Aïcha also has a four-year-old, Khadija, who keeps crying. It’s because she’s scared, Aïcha explains. Khadija’s hurt her lip as well, but nothing serious, she gets help from the medical team and her mother visits a Red Cross psychosocial volunteer, who gives her advice on how to help Khadija adjust, and stop her having nightmares.

While the numbers of people coming over the border fluctuates between 900 – 2000 in a week, it all depends on the situation in Libya, and that number could go up at any time.

Sometimes, whole extended families have made it over the border together. Khaltouma and Admadaoud are part of a family of 24 people. They have settled into six tents next to each other so that they’re not separated. They lived in Libya for nearly two decades, raising children and building their lives.

Khaltouma’s husband had a steady job as a driver. “We left because of war,” she explains. Last night they managed to make it to the border. “When will we be able to go home?” is her first question. After 20 years, Libya is their home, and the only home their children have known. Right now it’s impossible to say when they will be able to go back.

On my last day in the camp I stuck my head into Omar’s tent but he’d gone. It turns out that he’d left early that morning, among the first 400 people to leave after five days in the camp. I hope he made it safely home and gets to fulfil his dream of returning to a peaceful Libya to finish his studies.

The rest of the day was spent tidying up the loose ends and handing over my work over. The afternoon was filled with all the emotional goodbyes. It’s amazing the bond you can develop over such a short period of time. Among the goodbyes is our hygiene promotion team. They all come from the local town. Najet, 25, one of the supervisors, says she has found working in the camp a life changing experience. It has changed her outlook on life and she feels changed the views of everyone in Ben Guardane, the town nearest the camps.

Struggling through the airport with my giant tajine (a parting gift from the hygiene promoters), I came across some of the refugees lucky enough to be able to make their journey home. Hopefully for them, this is the final stage of a traumatic few weeks and epic journeys to return home to build new lives.

But for others affected by the conflict in Libya, they are likely to need help for some time to come.