Growing frustration in Choucha transit camp

Tensions have escalated among third country nationals who fled violence in Libya and have been living in Choucha transit camp in Tunisia, and the situation could get worse, an aid worker warns.

“Over the last six weeks we have seen tensions increasing and although we have tried to keep nationalities in the same area, organized sporting activities and undertaken some psycho-social work, we are seeing frustrations increasing the longer people are here waiting,” said Moustafa Osman, a humanitarian manager for Islamic Relief, told IRIN.

“There have been increasing incidents of violence and demonstrations by camp populations who are feeling increasingly frustrated at their situation… There is concern that violence will escalate... The only solution is to get these people back home or to third countries,” he said.

Choucha camp, which is about 25km from the town of Ras Ajdir near the border with Libya, has at least 3,500 third country nationals, according to Islamic Relief. Most are single African men, although there are also some families in the camp.

On 22 May, a fire destroyed 21 tents in the family section of the camp. An investigation is under way by the Tunisian authorities to establish the cause of the fire which led to the deaths of four Eritreans.

“Rumours are circulating in the camp that this fire was started deliberately,” Osman said. “This morning [24 May] we heard there was a demonstration where [some] people were killed in violent clashes inside the camp. We feel that the security issues are beyond the capacity of NGOs and need to be undertaken with the Tunisian army.”

The number reportedly killed in the demonstration could not be independently verified.

Choucha camp has two distinct groups - migrant workers who can return to their home countries, and Somalis, Eritreans and other "persons of concern" who cannot go back to their home countries for political or security reasons. The two groups live separately.