Monday, May the 14th , 2012
3000 refugees have been surviving out of sight for over a year in the Choucha camp. Today, they call for a solution to their situation. Some are refugees whose status hasn't been recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Others are recognized refugees but for whom resettlement in another country is refused. They claim the impossibility for them to return to their country. In the short term, they are constrained to stay in Tunisia irregularly or to return to Libya.
In 2011, Tunisia hosted hundreds of thousands of people. Part of them transitted through the Shousha camp. Since then, arrivals have ceased and refugees are forgotten. 2747 people are now recognized as refugees, 273 were dismissed, 156 are awaiting registration and 156 more have a pending application. These figures appear ridiculous compared to the number of people received in 2011 by Tunisia and to the possibilities of other States to welcome refugees.
People who received a final rejection of their asylum application
They are 273, among others Chadians, Sudanese, Nigerians, Ethiopians, or Ivorians. They denounce the rejection they received, citing procedural errors, the fact that they are unable to return to their country and also very long delays before receiving final rejections. Appeals against rejections were made without receiving written justification of the latter and before the same instance who delivered them: the UNHCR. It is then difficult to consider that these people have access to an effective remedy.
The UNHCR considers that these people are not anymore of its concern. If they do not accept to return to their country, they find temselves forced to stay in Tunisia irregularly or to return to Libya - even if most of them do not have a passport.
Recognized as refugees, but not resettled
Some refugees recognized by UNHCR are in the same situation. Their status gives them no right to resettlement. On the other side, Tunisia, for being in a political transition, doesn't have any asylum system yet. The UNHCR's resettlement program has had little response from the Western states and ended December the 1st 2011. 858 applications were accepted, 1,738 claims remain pending in different states, 66 are ongoing. Most states impose strict criteria for resettlement.
European states have accepted a very low number of refugees recognized by UNHCR. 193 other people will not be entitled to resettlement whatever happens, this since their application was registered after the date of completion of the program. Here again, what are the solutions? To stay in the camp or in Tunisia irregularly until the potential adoption of a law on asylum in 2013? Or leave for Libya ...
Towards a new detention camp?
The lack of solution for these people results in the perpetuation of this camp which was meant to be temporary. The fear remains that it evolves towards a place to bring more refugees that no one would welcome. Thus, in March 2012, 74 Somalis who had left by boat from Libya to Italy were taken to Shusha by the Tunisian navy. These people had never been in Shusha or Tunisia before. Such practices suggest that Shousha turns into a detention camp for foreigners.
After waiting for more than a year, 3,000 people who fled their country and the Libyan crisis are today still forced to live in the desert. What does represent the reception of these few hundred refugees to the Western states? The fear of the "pull factor" and the fight against irregular immigration takes on its full dimension.
The refugees from the Shousha camp require the acceleration of ongoing resettlement procedures and for an urgent renewal of a resettlement program, including those to whom it was denied and those registered after December the 1st 2011. They call on UNHCR to reopen rejected refugee status applications and provide written reasons for rejection to allow a real right of appeal.
We recall here all our solidarity and support for all refugees in Shousha. We call UNHCR and States which may receive the refugees to show solidarity and political will, beyond the necessary resettlemnet programs, in order to provide real solutions to their situation. Staying in Tunisia irregularly or returning to Libya are not acceptable solutions.