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Monastir: Summary of the workshop „Migrants‘ Rights” (about Choucha and struggles in the Maghreb region) 1st part: Situation in the camp Choucha at the Tunisian-Libyan border and possibilities to act
On the 11th of July, an international delegation of 11 activists from Europe and Africa went to Choucha (also written Shousha in English, but I use the name which is common in Tunisia). Their aim was to pick up representatives of the different communities of refugees, who were invited to the Forum in Monastir. The delegation was prevented by the military to enter the camp (it was said that visits are only possible with permission of the Ministry of Defense, and this Ministry had refused the entry of the delegation after being called by the UNHCR). But it was possible to hold meetings with refugees in front of the camp. Because some of those who were invited before could not or dared not to go to Monastir (e.g. because of appointments for interviews or fear of repression) or could not be contacted, a new group of eight representatives of refugees from Ethiopia (among them two Oromo women), Sudan, Darfur, Somalia, Chad and Bangladesh was composed, and on the 12th of July, they went together with the delegation to Monastir.
In the beginning of the workshop, all refugees presented themselves, but some want to stay anonymous, because they fear repression. Therefore only a short presentation without names:
- A young Ethiopian woman complained that her asylum application was rejected by the UNHCR, although she was told after her flight from Libya that in Choucha she would get help to go somewhere else.
- A Sudanese, who had lived in Libya for 21 years, said that Subsaharan Africans built up Libya with their sweat, and since he fled Libya because of the war, he is without papers except his 21 years old passport.
- A refugee from Darfur said he was in Libya before and is in Choucha for 1 ½ years and one of the few who has got a refugee status. He complained about the heat in the camp, where he is waiting for resettlement.
- A young man from Bangladesh, who is in Choucha since March 2011, told about the problems in his country (floods, overpopulation), which are not recognized as reasons to get asylum. He also had big problems in Libya, because under Gaddafi, some Bangladeshis had good jobs, and that's why the rebels / new leaders persecute all of them as supporters of Gaddafi.
- A refugee from Somalis tried together with others to reach Italy by boat, but on the sea, they run out of water. A Tunisian boat helped them and called a Tunisian military ship. They were told that they would be brought to Italy. But in fact they had to sit down on board without moving and were brought to Choucha. There they were told that they came too late - there are no procedures for asylum and resettlement done any more since the end of 2011. So he is without papers and perspective in the camp, where it is too cold in winter and too hot in summer.
- A man from Chad, who arrived in Choucha in March 2011, was told by the UNHCR that there were no problems in his country and his registration was refused. 85% of the asylum seekers from Chad were rejected. There are 47 nationalities in the camp, about 2900 asylum applications were accepted, 300 rejected, among them 150 from Chad. The conflict in Libya drove them to Choucha, because there were people from Chad who were fighting together with Gaddafi, and that's why all are regarded as mercenaries. Some of them tried to go back to Libya and were killed there. Now there is a new offer: 700 Euro for a voluntary return - but most of them cannot go back to their countries of origin.
After this presentation, the general situation in the camp Choucha was explained, looking at the draft of the press release (final version in the attachment) which was written together with some of the refugees. Refugees from Choucha and some participants of the workshop proposed to add something to the text, e.g. about the situation of women in the camp, especially concerning the hygienic conditions, about the situation of children and the lack of medical care, e.g. for refugees who do hard work in the surrounding of the camp to earn some money and got injured. They were told: "You do not have the right to leave the camp, so it is your own fault!" One refugee complained about the lack of education in the camp. It was also proposed to stress that the refugees in Choucha are denied freedom (of movement), so it is not only a question of living conditions in the camp. All of them should have the right to settle somewhere else! One activist from Mali said he was shocked that such treatment of migrants exists in Tunisia after the revolution. The Tunisian public should be informed!
During the discussion, one activist from Mauritania proposed to go with a delegation of the Forum to Choucha. Most of the refugees did not want this, because it would not be useful for them, maybe even dangerous. There were already many delegations, and nothing came out of it. It would be more important that activists and media put pressure on the governments of their respective countries and on the UNHCR to find a solution for the refugees in Choucha. (In the end, the refugees were accompanied back to Choucha by two Tunisian activists on the 14th of July, because some of them did not feel save travelling alone.)
2. Situation and struggles of migrants in Mali and in the Maghreb region in general
Representatives of the AME and ARACEM (Malian organizations supporting deported migrants) explained the changed situation in Mali after the Touareg rebellion and the separation of the north. Because of these events, many transit migrants are blocked, and many of them want to go back, but cannot do it. Especially for the women this is a very difficult situation.
One Malian living in Tunisia, who was in Algeria before, presented the situation in both countries: There is no refugee status in Algeria, and many migrants are pushed back at the borders. To Tunisia, many migrants come by plane (no visa necessary) and have a right to stay for 90 days, but after this time, many of them cannot (or do not want to) go back and can be arrested at any time. Before the revolution, they were deported to the Libyan border, if they could not pay their flight back. This does not happen now any more. They are released after some time and live undocumented in Tunisia, which is not easy because of controls and lack of work. Up to now, there is no asylum law in Tunisia, but the government is working on it.
Rym, an activist from Algeria, added that in her office in Algier, about 30-35 migrants arrive every day, most of them asylum seekers. They get a paper, but it does not give protection or rights.
An activist from GADEM, Morocco explained the legal and political situation of migrants in that country: Morocco has signed the Geneva Convention on Refugees and adopted a law "02/03" concerning migration, but even for refugees recognized by the UNHCR there is only a UNCHR card, which does not give any rights in Morocco, except not being deported. During the last weeks, more police raids and deportations to the (closed) Algerian border, which took place a lot in 2007/8, are taking place again, and some days ago, migrants tried to climb over the fences of Ceuta and Melilla, and a Moroccan policeman died and many migrants were injured. In reaction to this event, 400 migrants (among them 26 pregnant women) were arrested in Nador and deported to Oujda (at the Algerian border).
Emmanuel from the network Afrique-Europe-Interact, originally from DR Congo, for a long time activist in Morocco and now in The Netherlands, explained the struggles of migrants in Morroco, which did not have much success, and he told the Moroccan and Tunisian activists not to lose their courage. He is fighting for a universal human right, and the UNHCR in Morocco did not like this and wanted to get rid of him, so he was granted resettlement and could go to Europe.
Mohamed from the Moroccan trade union ODT presented the foundation of the first trade union of immigrant workers in an Arab country. The background is that many migrants live now more than 10 years in Morocco, which means they are no longer in transit. Many of them work, but under very bad conditions, and it would be necessary to fight for rights. On the 1st of May 2012, sub-Saharan migrants marched together with Moroccan workers as a block on the demonstration.
People were informed that on the 6th and 7th of October 2012, there will be a "Social Forum of Migrants" in Oujda.