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Tunisian PM wants more aid for refugees from Libya

Tunisian prime minister asks the G8 more support for the economy

AFP, Friday 27 May 2011
Tunisian PM
French President Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hands with Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, left, before a meeting at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, Friday, May 27, 2011. Group of Eight leaders say international bodies will give $20 billion to Egypt and Tunisia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
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Tunisia wants more international aid to help cope with the flow of refugees across its border from Libya, which has led to tensions and six recent deaths, Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi said Friday.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that two-thirds of the Choucha camp, seven kilometres (four miles) from the border with Libya, had been burned down and that refugees, including Eritreans, Somalis and Sudanese, had battled each other.

Since the beginning of the events in Libya on February 23, Tunisia has taken in about 415,000 refugees of more than 40 nationalities and has met their needs while awaiting their repatriation," Caid Essebsi said in a written interview with AFP.

"A gigantic effort has been deployed by the government and Tunisian citizens, notably those of the south," and "the government has even provided schooling for young Libyans whose families are currently refugees in southern Tunisia," he added.

"Tunisia nevertheless would like more international solidarity to help cope with the likely mass movements of the refugees, and in particular to help find urgent solutions for Eritrean and Somali refugees, whose repatriation is not yet envisageable", because of the situation in their countries, Caid Essebsi said.

The fighting in the Choucha camp, which housed about 4,000 migrant workers, broke out on Sunday night, when four Eritreans died in fires of indeterminate origin, UNHCR spokesman Melissa Fleming said in Geneva. A source in the Tunisian defence ministry reported seven people injured in fires.

"The problems continued on Monday when a large group of migrant workers surrounded UNHCR's office at the camp, seeking immediate resettlement. UNHCR staff and other humanitarian workers received death threats and were forced to withdraw," Fleming said.

Two people were killed, according to the UNHCR, and a Tunisian military source said the victims were Somalis who were stoned to death.

"Despite the efforts of the Tunisian military to prevent clashes," Fleming added, "the situation deteriorated further as some 500 local Tunisians descended on the camp. In the chaos more tents were looted and burned. Many camp residents fled to the surrounding desert."

A small inter-agency team led by the UNHCR on Wednesday arrived to find that two-thirds of the camp had been destroyed or looted. The aid agencies worked with the Tunisian army to distribute mattresses, blankets and food, but many people at Choucha were left living in the open.

International Organisation for Migration official (IOM) Fernando Calado said in a press release Friday that "there were some conflicts between refugees and the local population, but we met with the leaders of the community, we are committed to work together."

Calado added that since the middle of the week, some 1,500 people had been repatriated to their mainly sub-Saharan countries and he added that a decision had been made "to move the Choucha camp to a more suitable location".

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