Libya + 1 more

At the Tunisia-Libya border, relief for families heading home

News and Press Release
Originally published

By Roshan Khadivi

RAS JDIR, Tunisia, 4 April 2011 – At first glance, Laika's smile and those of her six children are eye-catching as they enter a tent in the Ataawan transit camp on the Tunisia-Libya border.

But it soon becomes clear that Laika is the main instigator, as she tries to keep up the kids' spirits by telling jokes and hugging them. It has not been an easy night – the family had hardly any sleep as rain bounced off the small tent they share.

Fleeing the violence

After living in Tripoli for 11 years, Laika, her husband and their children boarded a bus earlier this week and crossed the border into Tunisia as they head back to Sudan, her country of origin.

"The schools are closed and the situation is very tense," said Laika. "It is difficult for all the children living in that environment. I am grateful to God that we, my family, could all leave together before the situation becomes worse."

Laika and her family arrived in Ataawan transmit camp for registration and an overnight stay, which has now been extended to three nights.

There are two camps to which they might move next. The first is a small camp managed by United Arab Emirates Red Crescent, which currently has more than 1,300 people, including 120 families. The other option is Shousha, the largest transit camp in southern Tunisia, which currently has more than 7,300 people, including 352 families.

Shousha is home to so many people that, although male migrant workers make up the majority, there are sections within the camp allocated to families with children.

As transit camps, both are designed to be provide temporary care for migrants as they make their way back to their home countries. But along with the departures are many new arrivals from Libya and other neighbouring countries.

Inside Libya

People escaping from Libya into Tunisia say children have been killed and injured as a result of internal hostilities. Unconfirmed reports also say hundreds have been internally displaced. Due to a lack of humanitarian access, it has been impossible to verify these accounts.

"UNICEF is very concerned about the impact of the on-going violence on children and communities in Libya," said UNICEF Representative in Tunisia Maria-Luisa Fornara, who recently visited Shousha to meet with families and review UNICEF's emergency response.

Government forces in Libya have laid landmines off the main road between the two major north-eastern cities of Ajdabiya and Benghazi, according to the latest report by non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch. This area is frequently used by people in vehicles and on foot, posing a direct threat to the civilian population.

UNICEF response

UNICEF is responding to immediate needs inside Libya by distributing emergency supplies like health, early childhood development and recreational kits though non-governmental partners present in Benghazi. Additional supplies on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders with Libya are also pre-positioned, and a team is ready to enter as soon as secure access is granted.

At the camps on the Tunisia-Libya border, UNICEF and partners, in close coordination with local officials, continue to coordinate and ensure that families have access to safe drinking water, latrines, and bathing facilities.

Hygiene kits are being distributed and messages on good personal hygiene practices are shared in order to prevent transmission of diarrhoeal bacteria and other preventable diseases. A vaccination campaign is also under way to immunize children under the age of two against measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, tuberculosis and other diseases.

In addition, child-friendly spaces have been set up as part of on-going psycho-social support to bring a sense of normalcy to the lives of children stranded at the borders. At Shousha, the UNICEF child protection team is also looking to help establish a space to educate school-aged children.

Moving forward

For Laika and her family, returning home to Sudan will be difficult as many of her children were born and have grown up in Libya. They're still adjusting to having fled their school and friends in Tripoli. Now, they will have to rebuild their lives.

"Even though I was not able to get the school records for my children as the administration office has been closed because of security, I hope we can get them back into a school in Sudan so they don't miss this academic year," said Laika, struggling to maintain her smile as she looks at her children running around the tent.