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Tunisia copes with Libyan refugees

Tunisia copes with Libyan refugees
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The border post of Dehiba, in the south west of Tunisia, is one of the two main crossing points for people fleeing the conflict in Libya. Every day 800 Libyans use this border point to enter or leave the country. Tunisian officials say more than 60,000 refugees have crossed the Libyan border via Dehiba between April and June. Among them is Ibrahim Issa’s family from Nalout. They have found refuge at Tataouine, 100 kilometres from here. Ibrahim said:

“I sent all my family to Tunisia in order to be safe. In Libya, I couldn’t be sure that nothing would happen to them, because the bombing was arbitrary. There are troops everywhere and you do not know where the shots are coming from.”

Three kilometres from the border at Dehiba is where we meet Mounir and his family. They fled Nalout three months ago. Since then, they have been looked after by Tunisians free of charge. The baby, a month and a half old, was born in Tunisia.

“We fled Nalout. We came to Tunisia and the people here and gave us places to stay and food to eat. They are brothers to us. Now all is well, thank God,” said Mounir.

95 per cent of Libyan refugees are hosted by Tunisians, a courtesy that Messaoud has extended to Mounir and his family:

“I came home from my work. I found them on the road, they had nowhere to go. I took them to my house. This is done in the name of God, nothing more or less.”

47 kilometres from Dehiba is the refugee camp of Remada. Prepared by the UNHCR on April 11, at the time of our visit there were 800 refugees, mostly women, children and old people. Even faced with the uncertainties raised by the conflict in Libya, camp officials are prepared, should the situation become more desperate explained camp manager Hatim Saied:

“I hope the situation will not last long. If it does, we have a long term plan and a contingency plan. If there’s a massive influx, the camp has capacity for 10,000 people or 1,500 families.”

Fatima and Mona’s families have been at the camp for two months. Fatima had to leave because of the bombing Nalout:

“Everyone was afraid. Even if you had money, you couldn’t buy anything, not even bread, there’s nothing anywhere. We were too scared to even leave our houses.”

Now Mona is safe, but her brother is at the front with the rebels, fighting against Gaddafi. Mona remains defiant:

“We will not give up. We remain confident. Even if he kills all our people and all our children! You always have hope. We will go home, that’s for sure, and Gaddafi will leave the country.”

The refugees we spoke to are all against Gaddafi, whose soldiers, they say, have killed their cattle and burned their fields. They are looking forward to the fall of the regime, including this refugee called Mohammed:

“We have to stop Gaddafi as soon as possible. Every day there are more and more victims. They say it will be in a week, a month, and during that time, he continues to kill innocent people.”