Salloum camp in western Egypt about 5km from the Libyan border is home to about 2,000 refugees, failed asylum seekers and third country nationals who fled Libya in 2011 and cannot return to their countries of origin.
“The situation here is so miserable,” said Al-Hag Al-Hassan Jabir, a North Darfuri engineer who worked in Libya for 25 years before fleeing to Salloum with his wife and two young children in May 2011. “But staying here is better than going back home.”
Community leader Elham Mohamed Garelnabe said the camp faces a security threat from Libyans across the border despite being built in an area controlled by the Egyptian military. “Sometimes, there are clashes between Libyans and the refugees… Libyans have threatened to burn the camp,” said Garelnabe, adding that refugees have set up committees to provide security around the camp.
Others complain of the desert heat. “It is too hot, even in the night, so you can’t sleep,” said Abu Bakr Huuti Othman, a Somali labourer who arrived at the camp last October.
Apart from latrines, the camp boasts two portable toilets, some tanks of drinking water, a space large enough to play football, and the shelter area itself. Low-hanging electric cables criss-cross the camp and people cook with gas cylinders inside their tents, something which has already led to several fires, one of which destroyed 50 structures in March.
However, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Egyptian army have agreed to set up a new fenced camp closer to the Libyan border, administered solely by UNHCR, and due to open in early August 2012.
According to Gaston Nteziriba, the UNHCR head in Salloum, sanitation will be improved at the new site and refugees will live in new tents, though fresh drinking water will continue to be a problem: “The water comes from only one desalination plant in Mersa Matruh [200km to the east],” he told IRIN. “When it faces any problem, distribution is disrupted, affecting the camp.”
|The water comes from only one desalination plant in Mersa Matruh [200km to the east]. When it faces any problem, distribution is disrupted, affecting the camp|
Provision of health care will also remain a challenge. Residents currently need permission from the military to leave the camp, said Garelnabe.
Adam Issa Izzaddin, originally from Chad, lived in Benghazi for years. He remembers fleeing Libya with his wife and two children: “We were not even able to take our clothes… It was raining bullets in Libya when we left.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) offered to repatriate Izzaddin and his family, but Izzaddin refused: “I can go anywhere, but I cannot go back to Chad,” he said, explaining that he was a wanted man.
Izzaddin and his family are among a few hundred people in the camp who do not qualify as refugees and refuse to leave the camp.
Ashenafi Geberu, who is originally from Eritrea and used to work as a labourer in Benghazi, said there was no way he could return to Libya: “Any black, they’ll kill… If I had a good family and a good country, I’d go back home… I’m tired of [Sallum]. I’d be the first to leave.”
According to a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch, thousands of Eritreans flee the country because of the harsh conditions of military service. Last June, the International Federation for Human Rights described the treatment of black Africans in Libya as “alarming”.
Resettlement is a priority so the camp can be closed by the end of 2013, said Nteziriba. “Unless there are unforeseen or exceptional circumstances, it won’t be longer than that,” he said. About 300 people have been resettled since February 2011.
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