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In the midst of emergency

Tunisia (Shousha camp) – In March 2011 Shousha camp felt like an immense and chaotic bus station in the middle of Tunisia’s desert. Tens of thousands of people were fleeing to Tunisia every day through the Ras Ajdir border to escape the conflict in Libya between Gadhafi’s loyalists and opposition forces.

Shousha camp was initially nothing but a medical field hospital with an initial capacity of 800 people, established within the first few days of the mass outflows from Libya some 7 km north of the Tunisian-Libyan borders. In early March the field military hospital was expanded by UNHCR to accommodate up to 20,000 people and came to be known as Shousha transit camp.

Many arrived in the camp with a few belongings. Many more fled with nothing in order to save their lives. The majority of sub-Saharan Africans recounted stories of violence, discrimination and abuse as they were mistaken for Gadhafi’s mercenaries during their flight from Libya.

In the first two weeks of the emergency, UNHCR estimated that more than 120,000 people fled Libya to Tunisia since the start of the conflict in mid-February. While most of the arrivals were from Egypt, more than thirty other nationalities were seen at the border, including a large number of Bangladeshis. The majority of arrivals were migrant workers who were employed in Libya before the violence split the country. Yet, among the new arrivals many persons were of concern to UNHCR and therefore in need of international protection, including asylum seekers and refugees.

IOM and UNHCR launched a humanitarian evacuation scheme and the decongestion of the border was achieved in a matter of days, thanks to the overwhelming show of support from multiple countries.

It is estimated that more than more than one million people crossed into Tunisia from Libya between February and October 2011. In the same period, more than 210,000 third-country nationals were repatriated to their countries of origin through the humanitarian evacuation scheme.

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