Magharebia (Washington DC)

5 August 2014

Tunisia Faces Refugee Crisis

Tunis — Tunisia's Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya resumed operations on Saturday (August 2nd) after a brief closure over congestion.

Thousands of Libyan citizens and foreigners fleeing unrest have been flowing to the post since the start of crisis. According to the Tunisian foreign ministry, Ras Jedir post receives between 5,000 and 6,000 refugees a day.

Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi last Wednesday discussed the crisis at the border.

"We just can't take in hundreds of thousands of refugees to be added to more than 2 million Libyans now living in Tunisia. Our economy can't bear more than that, and if our national interests require us to close the Libya border, we will close it," he said.

Tunisia has never defaulted on its obligations towards refugees, in spite of the burdens it bears, noted economics student Moez Mbarki.

"We're living under tough economic situation and unstable security," he told Magharebia. "Nonetheless, we say we welcome all those who cross the Tunisian border regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity or colour; foreigners are received with open arms in Tunisia. At the same time, however, we ask them to respect our country's laws."

Amna Aouissi, a receptionist at a company, said, "It's true that the way Tunisians look at Libyans has considerably changed because of the damages and threats that have overtaken Tunisia due to what's happening in Libya. However, this doesn't mean that the closure of border is the solution for that problem; we have to help them provided we don't make the same old mistakes."

As a precaution, the Tunisian government on Saturday decided to step up searches and not allow camps to be set up to receive displaced people from Libya.

Libya is facing a bloody wave of violence that has prompted many countries to evacuate their nationals and forced Libyans themselves to leave their country.

More than 200 people were killed and about 1,000 others were wounded in violence in Libya in the last two weeks, the Libyan health ministry said.

Tunisia and Libya agreed on the evacuation of some 13,000 Egyptians stranded on the Libyan side of Ras Jedir, Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said Sunday. The number is expected to increase, he added.

For their part, Libyans confirmed that their country was going through a critical period.

Ali Saleh, a native of Zintan who came to Tunisia with his brothers at the end of Ramadan, said that Libya was witnessing large-scale chaos and that it became difficult for Libyans to live in some cities with the absence of the basics for life, including food, medicine, petrol and security.

"The victims are mainly civilians," he said. "I know that Libyans are the cause of this crisis and we feel ashamed because of that. We were unable to confront these armed, terrorist, outlawed groups; they're spread everywhere and it's hard to take them out."

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