Aid missions brace for the worst

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Aid missions brace for the worst

The afternoon air bears an eerie chill accompanied by a fear of the unknown on Tunisia’s border with Libya. The flood of refugees from last week has now fallen to a trickle.


Allan Jacob

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Published: Sat 12 Mar 2011, 9:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 1 Jul 2020, 11:40 AM

Tunisian security personnel appear confused about the dip in numbers, but continue to keep a wary eye out for the migrants, mostly Bangladeshis, Somalis, Sudanese and Egyptians treading wearily to the Tunisian side, carrying or lugging the last of their possessions behind them. Behind them, the green Libyan flag flutters in the wind. ‘’Colonel Gaddafi still calls the shots there,’’said an officer pointing to the white wall erected by the Libyans about 600 metres from where we are standing.

His colleague moves to a posse of Press photographers waiting in the periphery for their camera moment and shoos them away. They express the apologies to assuage him and let him know who’s in charge, only to return for a closer picture a few minutes later when his back is turned to them.
The tension is palpable, not paramount, and soon subsides when a family of four led by Taqwa, a bubbly three-year old, her brother Ali and her parents make their way past the barking police dogs and sentry posts manned by immigration officials, who collect their passports.A seated security officer stands to greet the family and bends down to plant a kiss on Taqwa’s cheek and offers her a bar of chocolate which she gladly accepts. Her brother then grabs his chocolate and heads off with the family to a row of buses nearby, which will transport them a UN-run refugee camp in Sucha.
Aid workers fromagencies like the UNHCR, Red Crescent, Red Cross and UAE Red Crescent are at hand to help these innocent victims escape an uprising against Colonel Gaddafi.
They offer bread and water and biscuits with words of comfort thrown in while ushering them to the buses which will send them to their temporary homes before they are eventually repatriated to their respective countries.
The number of refugees have fallen to about a thousand per day now from 10,000 two weeks ago, according to aid agencies and security officials.
The camp in Sucha, about 10km from the border, currently holds about 18,000 people on the run from Libya.

Another temporary habitation has been set up by theUAE Red Crescent,which is assisted by the Shaikh Zayed Foundation. This camp is just three kilometres from the border and has 60 tents which can each accommodate10 people .It also has a fully-equipped clinic with three doctors on duty.
Work on the UAE campsite began last week and the facility will include 50 toilets.
UAE officials are taking no chances and are expecting families to pour in if the situation on the other side of the border spirals out of control.
Humaid Al Shamsi, who heads the UAE Red Crescent camp said the focus was on families fleeing the strife. ‘’We are expecting Libyans to come this side of the border if things get worse. This camp also has tents for families and they need not worry about their safety.’’
Henri M. Stalder of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, said it would be impossible to predict if the number of those escaping the fighting would swell again.
“We don’t know in which direction the refugee situation will take, but we are here to provide support to various agencies like the UAE Red Crescent,Red Cross and others,’’ he said.
Some Tunisian officials here are bracing for a surge in refugee numbers if the regime goes down, while agencies like the Red Cross fear for the lives of Libyan civilians who have nowhere to go to.
It’s a wait-and-watch approach here for the moment, hopingthe crisis will pass. Authoritiesalso know it’s important to be prepared if the chaos in Libya takes a turn for the worse.

UAE sets up refugee camp close to Libya-Tunisia border
RAS AJDIR — Finishing touches are being given to UAE Red Crescent camp for refugees three kilometres from the border with Libya. This is first major camp close to the border.

Workers are seen mopping, cleaning and watering the sandy patch to control the fine dust which gets into your eyes, clothes, ears and mouth. The camp with 60 tents can hold about 700 people and more tents can be pitched if the need ever arises to hold 2,000, according to officials.
Ten refugees can be accommodated in a tent, they said and every tent has matresses and pans for storing water. There is also provision for kitchens and 50 toilets in the camp. Inside the tented clinic, doctors are taking stock of their medicine supplies. A mobile hospital is on standby in the UAE and can be transported to the area in 24 hours if the refugee numbers in-crease, said doctors.
Dr Salam Al Nuami heads the team of four doctors and three nurses stationed here, and he is coordinating daily with the local hospital in Bingardom 30 minutes from the campsite.
‘’We are working closely with the Moroccan and Tunisian Red Crescent and are prepared to meet a likely surge in refugees,’’ he said.
There have been sporadic incidents of violence 50 kilometres from here, inside Libya. Officials here could not verify the death toll or the extent of the violence, but the UAE team said they had information that some Palestinians wanted to cross over to a safer refuge in Tunisia. “They are mostly families, some Palestinians and Libyans, they will be safe here as we have all facilities to accommodate them,’’ said Humaid Al Shamsi, head of the UAE team.
The UAE Air Force flies into Djerba Zarzis airport daily with 100 tonnes of food supplies and equipment. This could go up to 500 tonnes if more people from across the border flee to the Tunisian side.

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