By Ban Dhayi
DEHIBAT, Tunisia, 27 April 2011 – One month ago, Marwa, 11, was a fifth grade student at Nafousa school in western Libya, But when fighting came closer to her home in Nalut, schools closed and she was forced to stay home. Recent threats of shelling of her town left Marwa and her family with no other option but to join thousands of Libyans who have fled to neighbouring Tunisia.
Children in need
With conflict intensifying in Libya, the International Organization for Migration estimates that since mid-February more than 82,000 Libyans have entered Tunisia through border crossings at Ras Jdir and Dehibat. The total number of people in camps in Dehibat and Remada as of Monday was over 2,270.
In Remada camp alone, there are currently 1,000 displaced people, 310 of whom are children. Maria-Luisa Fornara, UNICEF Representative in Tunisia, says that while there is comfort for the children in being safe and away from the immediate danger of violence, they have a number of needs.
“The reality is that new challenges face these children and their families as displaced persons,” she said. “In addition to the trauma of conflict and loss, these children are deprived of their basic right to education and are in need of protection and psycho-social support.”
Even where both parents arrive with them, displaced children are still in need of special protection. Living away from their homes and schools, the children often suffer from enforced idleness which contributes to a loss of self-esteem.
“How long will this situation last? My end-of-year exams start in June and I need to know if I will be going back home soon to study and prepare well ahead of the exam date,” said Mohammed, 9, who arrived from the Libyan town of Kamput.
Marwa agreed. “Can any girl enjoy a normal life in a camp?” she asked. “I feel I am useless here and restricted in my movement. I miss my home, friends and school.”
Since the crisis worsened and more displaced people started arriving, UNICEF has conducted two rapid assessments of the situation on the ground for children and their families.
They have helped UNICEF set priorities which will be implemented in partnership with governments and other humanitarian agencies and organizations. They aim to address issues such as access to school, provision of recreational spaces for children under the age of six, psycho-social support for families and children, and birth registration.
“Children in the camp have already developed aggressive behaviour patterns,” said Lilia Turki, UNICEF psychologist and team member of the rapid assessment mission at Remada camp. These include playing warfare games.
She added: “Displacement is an especially destabilizing and traumatic experience for children as it uproots them and exposes them to multiple risks at a time in their lives when they most need protection and stability.”