Since the 20th of February, Ras Jedir and Dhiba, crossing points between Tunisia and Libya are unexpectedly crowded. There are more than 110 000 refugees of all nationalities but many of them are Egyptians.
About 20 000 Tunisians were repatriated under difficult conditions. The majority had to spend a few days at the Tripoli airport in total poverty. Some of them complained that the tickets prices proposed to them cost 260 dinars (130 Euros) instead of the usual 160 (82 Euros). Sharply criticized, Tunis Air had to repatriate all Tunisians wishing to enter the country with or without ticket.
Already ravaged by Ben Ali’s bigwigs, the country is facing the risk of a humanitarian disaster. Nonetheless, the Tunisians were well prepared to welcome Tunisian and Libyan refugees. Authorities and citizens have demonstrated exemplary solidarity with refugees. The border villages’ population has spared no effort to welcome men, women and children fleeing the hell of Colonel Gaddafi and his followers.
People are hosting refugees in their own homes but the population is overwhelmed by the influx of tens of thousands of Egyptians. The latter are all the more surprised by Tunisian solidarity as they were surprised by the pro-Ghaddafi Libyans who made them fear the worst. Egyptian authorities are taking a long time to repatriate their nationals and this is making the situation more difficult.
The tents are not enough anymore and thousands of people have no choice but to sleep outside in the freezing cold. Yet, Tunisia continues to welcome refugees even those with no identity cards and to provide medical assistance, food and comfort. Some arrive at the border exhausted, sick or depressed. The army is setting up field hospitals thanks to the support of NGO’s.
Tunisians are frustrated as they had prepared to welcome the injured but forces that are still loyal to Ghaddafi are preventing any evacuation to Tunisia. The Tunisian Red Crescent and the NGO’s in Ras Jedir asked for the opening of a humanitarian corridor in vain.
It seems that there is no big difficulty in delivering aid to Libya, arriving by convoy from all across Tunisia even from the most disadvantaged areas. However, this is not enough. The situation threatens to worsen. Cases of disease (not epidemic ones yet) are being registered.
Egyptian refugees are crowded into makeshift camps or at the Djerba airport. The Egyptian airlift is sending thirty aeroplanes a day but it is proving to be insufficient. The situation of Bangladeshis who have no diplomatic representation in Tunisia seems to be more serious while that of the sub-Saharan is even more critical. They are victims of a real manhunt in Libya as they are often mistaken for Ghaddafi’s mercenaries.
Finally, the international community is aware if this humanitarian emergency and many countries are giving their support: the US, Germany, France, Spain, Italy…
The flood of refugees has stopped during the past two day but this does not bode well. Ghaddafi’s loyal forces are preventing them from entering Tunisia. It is possible that Tunisia will face an even more important refugee flow with the increasing conflict between revolutionaries and Ghaddafi’s followers.


Jalel El gharbi
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech




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