Tunisia camp for Libya refugees to close in June

According to the U.N. refugee agency, refugee camp in southern Tunisia for people who fled the conflict in Libya is to close in June, despite protests by residents who have failed to win shelter elsewhere. (Reuters)

A camp in southern Tunisia for people who fled the Libya conflict is to close in late June despite protests by residents who have failed to win asylum elsewhere, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.

“Considering the significant reduction in the number of arrivals seeking asylum and thanks to the success of the resettlement operations, the Tunisian authorities and the UNHCR have agreed to close the Choucha transit camp on June 30,” it said in a statement.

“It is time to think about the future of these people, beyond the context of urgency, to give them a more appropriate form of life, beyond the living conditions of a (refugee) camp,” said the UN agency’s Ursula Aboubacar.

Living in a tent for more than two years is not fit for a human being, she told a news conference in Tunis, adding that the closure of the camp was aimed at giving the refugees a “better life.”

The UNHCR says 800 people are living in the Choucha camp, with another 200 in neighboring towns.

Around 600 are awaiting settlement in a third country, while the remaining 300 to 400 will stay in Tunisia, some of whom have protested in recent weeks demanding asylum in the West and complaining of discrimination against them.

Among this group, seven Palestinians are currently on hunger strike, while others have been camped outside the UNHCR office in the nearby town of Zarzis.

Tunisia opened its borders to a flood of people - more than 300,000 - fleeing the conflict in Libya that led to the overthrow and death in October 2011 of strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

At the height of the crisis, Choucha hosted around 18,000 refugees, most of whom were sent back to their countries of origin, with about 3,000 allowed to settle in the West.

Last Update: Friday, 22 March 2013 KSA 19:42 - GMT 16:42