By Charlotte Phillips, Amnesty International researcher on refugees’ and migrants’ rights.
Life in Choucha camp is hard. Located in the Tunisian desert, not far from the border with Libya, the scorching midday sun beats down on row upon row of tiny tents, where thousands of refugees take shelter from the heat, swirling sands and scorpions.
Men, women and children, the sick and elderly among them, cluster together in small groups among the tents, attempting to create a sense of normality and community in an unforgiving environment; eating together, running little shops, giving birth, bringing up children and even getting married. But nothing about life in this place is normal.
The majority of residents in Choucha camp are refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and the Ivory Coast who had been living or travelling in Libya when conflict broke out.
However, unlike the thousands of migrant workers who have long since been repatriated, these are people who cannot go home because of the persecution and conflict they would face in their own countries – they are ‘double’ refugees, displaced once from their homes and then again from Libya. So for the time being they are stuck in Choucha refugee camp, waiting for a solution to their problems and some peace.
Amnesty International delegates have been in the camp for the last couple of days speaking to refugees, as well as documenting conditions in the camp. Faduma, a mother from Somalia, with her two young daughters sitting beside her, told us: “The main problem here is that we are still not safe. I cannot sleep at night, I am so worried about my daughters. I have no husband and there is no one to protect us here.”
Azmina, another Somali mother with young children says: “We have been waiting here for months. Life here is not sustainable and many of our community have returned to Libya because they cannot stay here. There is no hope here.”
For many, the only solution is to be resettled in another country where they can begin to rebuild their lives and find real, long-term peace and safety. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has put out an emergency appeal calling on countries in Europe, as well as the USA and Australia amongst others, to resettle meaningful numbers of refugees from Choucha in order to give them the peace and security they have desperately sought.
On 20 June, World Refugee Day 2011, Amnesty International supports UNHCR’s appeal for resettlement of refugees displaced by the conflict in Libya and calls on governments, in the spirit of responsibility sharing, to offer a life-saving solution to the refugees of Choucha camp.