Tunisia– In the prestigious Buhaira area of the capital, Tunis, dozens of African refugees have been sitting on the ground, camping in the open in front of the UNHCR building, after it ordered the evacuation of their shelters in southern Tunisia at the beginning of this year, according to them.
Without physical distancing, the refugees piled up on the sidewalk, putting up signs on the wall of the UNHCR building, calling for their resettlement in other countries, refusing to cut aid from UNHCR and push them into the battlefield of life without help and without their will.
The large number of refugees, women, men and children, suggests that in no time the place turned into a camp for asylum seekers of various nationalities, from Sudan, Chad, Somalia, Eritrea, and even the stateless Tuareg from Libya.
Abdul Rahman Bilal sleeps on the sidewalk in the middle of the large crowd, surrounded by his wife, nine children and some of his relatives who migrated 4 years ago from the Libyan region of Sabha towards Tunisia to seek asylum in another country that restores their lost rights and dignity.
Abdel Rahman, 56, a member of the stateless Tuareg tribe in Libya, says that they fled the hell of war and chaos there in search of improving their situation, but they collided in Tunisia with the darkness of the situation and insecurity, while remaining homeless in the streets without a solution.
The man with his family lived a miserable life in Libya because he is one of the Tuareg people with administrative numbers who do not have a nationality, and when you are stateless in Libya, your life turns into a real hell, where you do not enjoy even the most basic civil rights, as he put it.
Abdel Rahman managed to obtain a green card for refugees with his family after coming to Tunisia, but the dream of evacuating him to another country began to dissipate after the High Commissioner for Refugees decided to evacuate the shelters in Medenine and Zarzis in the south.
Abdel Rahman’s situation is not worse than that of the 18-year-old Eritrean girl, Fahawit Salasa, who found herself in Tunisia as a homeless refugee without a home or sponsor, after the Tunisian Naval Guard arrested her while she was sailing with other refugees in a boat towards the Italian coast.
This young woman fled 4 years ago from her family, refusing to be forcibly married to a man who was no older than her when she was no more than 14 years old.
Holding back her tears, Fathawit told Al Jazeera Net that he sometimes fainted from the severity of the torture and beatings at the hands of masked men who were seeking ransom in exchange for her release, and her suffering from torture and ill-treatment lasted about two months in an unknown detention center that she did not know.
Because of her screaming on the phone from the pain of torture, Fathawit’s parents sent the ransom containers to the kidnappers who released her and put her on a boat carrying refugees towards Italy according to the agreement with her, but the trip failed after she was intercepted by the Tunisian Naval Guard.
After she was caught by the naval guards, Fatahawit was taken 9 months ago to a shelter designated for refugees in the city of Sfax, southern Tunisia, but with the decision of the High Commissioner for Refugees to evacuate all the shelters, she found herself homeless in harsh conditions.
Fathawit tells Al Jazeera Net that all she seeks is her evacuation and resettlement in another country that preserves her lost human rights and dignity, noting that she has been subjected in Tunisia to many violations and racial discrimination based on her religious affiliation to Christianity.
In turn, Sudanese refugee Salah El-Din Ibrahim Omar, 30, has been living in a difficult situation since he fled Libya to Tunisia on foot in April 2019 to escape the war waged by retired Major General Khalifa Haftar on Tripoli.
Before that, this young man fled the armed conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan towards Chad and then Libya, and tells Al Jazeera Net that he was imprisoned 4 times in Darfur because of his opposition to the government when he was a university student, before being threatened with liquidation.
Salah El-Din obtained a green card for refugees, but he feels that he is not safe in Tunisia after the closure of shelters by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the beginning of this year in exchange for a grant for refugees of less than $100 over 3 months.
He says that the UNHCR dealt provocatively with asylum seekers and pushes them into Tunisian society against their will and without taking into account the high unemployment in Tunisia, the high cost of living, racial discrimination and rough security dealings with refugees.
In turn, the spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Non-Governmental Economic and Social Rights, Ramadan Ben Omar, described the UNHCR’s decision to evacuate the shelters as “improvised”, considering that the decision created a crisis of confidence between the UNHCR and the refugees.
“The UNHCR should have made greater efforts to contain the refugee crisis and respond to their minimum demands,” he said, considering the UNHCR’s stigmatization of refugees that they do not want to work or live in Tunisia as encouraging the spread of anti-refugee behavior and feelings.
For its part, the UNHCR said that it is continuing its efforts to dialogue with the protesting refugees, in order to find practical solutions for their benefit, denying that financial aid has been cut off despite the material difficulties that UNHCR is experiencing.
UNHCR denied the closure of its shelters in Tunisia, stressing that it still has 3 shelters operating with a total capacity of 400 places, and it continues to provide accommodation for the most vulnerable individuals, including those rescued from the sea.