Concern grows for refugees of Libya's 'Arab Spring'

world | Nov 19, 2011 | By Spero News

On a visit to Rome, Elisabeth Wonok, of the Little Sisters of Jesus, shared her concern over the fate of persons not officially recognised as refugees living in the Choucha camp in Tunisia on the border with Libya.

JRS has expressed concern for the many unrecognised refugees, mainly sub-Saharan Africans, although not considered eligible for resettlement to third countries, say they are unable to return to their countries of origin.

Sub-Saharan African refugees have told JRS that they are unable to go home and fear returning to Libya, as they frequently hear reports of attacks on sub-Saharan Africans living there.

Speaking to JRS, Sr Wonok, originally from South Korea and now working in the Choucha camp in Tunisia, expressed particular concern about the fate of the adolescents and young men, who in many cases rely on other refugee families for support.  She described how many of these young adolescents are currently living in community with refugee families, and that she was worried about their ability to cope by themselves if those families were resettled.

Many industrialised nations, which have declared support for the resettlement of refugees over the last few months, have yet to arrive in Tunisia and begin interviewing candidates for resettlement.

The biggest problem raised by Wonok is the degree of uncertainty among camp residents, as the situation has rapidly evolved over the last few months.  In recent weeks, the number of refugee camps on the border with Libya has been reduced from three to one. Although thousands of Libyans have returned home, the fate of the mainly sub-Saharan African population is still not clear.

As the number of refugees has decreased, it appears that many NGOs and UN agencies are gradually phasing down support. While food and medical care is still being guaranteed, JRS is concerned about the future provision of these services.

JRS in Tunisia

Jesuit Relief Service is currently working in the Choucha refugee camp on the border with Libya, which hosts approximately 3,700 refugees.  Over the last six months, JRS has been providing psychosocial support and accompaniment to approximately 230 women refugees.  Sr Mercy Mbugua is also currently working in the camp, helping to teach the women how to crochet.  While to many this may seem like a relatively insignificant activity, according to Sr Wonok it is an important way of helping the women deal with the crisis.

"My greatest satisfaction is to see the women come back to life. With the goods that they produce they are able to provide clothing for their children, and presents for family and friends," she said.

Speaking about her frustrations working in the camp, she said, "Everything is out of our hands. All we can do is provide small amounts of help and listen to the refugees."



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