Tunisia: Day Two: Shousha Transit Camp, Ras Edjir Border Crossing

from Refugees International
Published on 15 Mar 2011 View Original
March 15, 2011 | Dara McLeod | Tagged as: Africa, Libya, Internal Displacement, Middle East

We left Tunis in the early hours of the morning for the short flight to the town of Zarzis, on the Mediterranean Sea. In the summer months, Zarzis is a bustling tourist resort town. Today, it is playing host to myriad government and non-government organizations that have quickly mobilized to deal with the huge influx of people fleeing Libya just an hour's drive away.

Upon our arrival, we drove to the Shousha transit camp near Tunisia's Ras Edjir Border Crossing. Tens of thousands of people have passed through the camp. Today, it was playing host to about 17,000. The logistics of coping with such a large, fluctuating community are staggering. We arrived just as those in the camp stood waiting for food in queues that stretched as far as I could see. Talking to officials with the World Food Program, we are told that in order to feed 17,000 people in a reasonable amount of time, they must serve an average of 50 people per minute.

The numbers at Shousha grow and shrink on a daily basis. As migrant workers are flown home in the thousands, thousands more are still coming across the border every day. When we drive to the border itself just a few miles away, we are met by a small but steady stream of people walking slowly to the buses waiting to take them to the camp - some carrying a single suitcase, some arriving empty-handed. Confronted with the prosaic reality of this scene, it seems hard to imagine the tragedy that is taking place on the other side of that border line.

But there is little doubt that tragedies inside Libya are still occurring. Talking to a couple of sub-Saharan Africans currently residing in Shousha camp, it becomes clear that the reports about black Africans being targeted within Libya are not aberrations. One man from Gambia who had spent four years working for a Libyan oil company said the military had robbed him of everything on his flight to the border. Even his shoes had been taken - a fact borne out by a glance at his feet, his ankles hanging over the edge of a hastily donated pair. A Ghanaian we met said he decided to leave after he saw two sub-Saharan Africans shot and killed in front of him. He told us that as he was making the risky choice to leave his place of hiding in Libya and risk the flight to Tunisia, the mantra that ran through his head was: "If I live, I live. If I die, I die."

That's a choice that no-one should ever have to make.