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Tunisia: Authorities in Tunis disperse asylum seekers in limbo

Asylum seekers   -  
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FETHI BELAID/AFP or licensors


A blanket on the ground, a tarpaulin stretched over a tree: "we have no place to go, no water or food," said Nasra, a Yemeni woman who is nine months pregnant and has been a refugee since Wednesday, along with a hundred other asylum seekers, near the headquarters of the International Organization for Migration in Tunis.

Until the day before, Nasra Mohammed, 27, survived with her husband and their seven children in a makeshift camp in front of the building of the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), in the upscale Lake district, thanks to the help of volunteers.

Originally from 15 countries, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, these refugees awaiting evacuation "to a safe country" were dispersed on Tuesday during a forceful intervention by the police and their camp was dismantled.

Officers used tear gas and made arrests after a group tried to enter the building, according to Tunisian official sources.

The already precarious situation of asylum seekers has deteriorated in Tunisia since an inflammatory speech on February 21 by President Kais Saied against illegal immigration.

Hundreds of economic migrants, most of whom were in transit through Tunisia in an attempt to reach Europe, sought refuge with their embassies and many were repatriated, including to Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea and Mali.

Others embarked clandestinely on boats at the risk of their lives. Several crossings to Italy ended in shipwrecks, leaving dozens dead or missing.

Unlike migrants, asylum seekers cannot turn to their embassies because they risk reprisals in their own countries. Moreover, they are supposed to benefit from UNHCR protection.

When contacted by AFP, the UN agency did not respond Wednesday on the type of rights associated with this status.

On its Facebook page, the UNHCR's Tunisian headquarters limited itself to expressing its "deep rejection of the violence" of the previous day.

- "Vital assistance" -

According to the UNHCR, "a small group" out of a total of "200 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants carrying out a sit-in for three weeks" in front of its premises, "entered by force, causing material damage."

The organization "reaffirmed its commitment to continue to provide protection and vital assistance to displaced people in Tunisia.

Nasra and his family left war-torn Yemen in 2020 and arrived in April 2022 in Tunisia after a journey via Sudan, Ethiopia, Niger, Algeria and then Libya.

"We are told to return to our country but there is war and famine... My husband is threatened with death", she confides.

Nasra does not hide her disappointment in front of the UNHCR which made the police intervene "to be protected: protected from whom? from refugees who flee the war, from children, from people who seek peace?

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