The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) closed the refugee camp in Choucha, south of Tunisia near the Libyan border on 30 June. The camp, now reportedly without running water or electricity, remains home to approximately 300 persons.
UNHCR has explained that the population of Choucha has declined since 2011, allowing UNHCR to shift its operations to urban areas and that basic assistance programs such as health care, education, and legal counselling have already been transferred to nearby cities.
The option of local integration has faced resistance from the remaining residents of the camp, many of whom have fled countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, and Palestine. Reports of racist and religious violence towards the camp residents have left the asylum seekers reluctant to stay in Tunisia. The asylum seekers have previously addressed these issues with UNHCR Tunisia in the form of protests, hunger strikes and letters with support of local and national NGOs.
The closure of the camp has the support of the Tunisian authorities, yet Tunisia lacks the legal mechanisms for asylum procedures and refugee status recognition. UNHCR is advocating for the adoption by the Tunisian authorities of a formal legal status for refugees in order to safeguard their access to socio-economic rights.
Libya’s 2011 civil war triggered a massive influx of refugees and migrant workers into southern Tunisia and Egypt. At the peak of the crisis the Choucha camp was receiving up to 18,000 people a day.