Tunisian Red Crescent increases border support for refugees amid Libya unrest

Published: 22 September 2014 11:26 CET

By Soraya Dali-Balta, IFRC

The renewed violence in Libya has significantly spilled over into Tunisia, where thousands of Libyans headed to escape the ongoing armed clashes. The Tunisian Red Crescent has mobilised volunteers to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs resulting from the influx of refugees since August.

The Red Crescent established an operations base in the border crossing area to address refugees’ well-being and needs, providing in particular food and psycho-social support. Activities are carried out in cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The urgent humanitarian operations were further strengthened thanks to a generous donation made by the Japanese government to the society to enhance its ability to respond to the Libyan crisis and its resulting humanitarian distress on the border. The Japanese government allocated 13,068 food portions to the displaced on the Libyan side of the border, 3,081 to those staying in the coastal town of Ben Gardane in south-east Tunisia, and 7,177 portions to the 10,780 Egyptians who were waiting at the Gabes airport before being evacuated between 6 and 18 August 2014 .

“Another 3,696 food parcels were distributed by Red Crescent volunteers to foreign workers who escaped the unrest in Libya and are now on the Tunisian border awaiting evacuation to their countries,” Sana Douiri, head of operations, said. She noted that these parcels were donated by Egypt’s government and were mainly given to Egyptian expats who fled Libya.

Douiri also assured that the Tunisian Red Crescent is still present on the border and will continue responding to urgent humanitarian needs, despite the recent significant decrease in the number of refugees entering Tunisia.

Meanwhile, IFRC regional representative in North Africa Dr Muftah Etwilb said: “I am very  proud of the Tunisian Red Crescent and the Libyan Red Crescent's volunteers who quickly responded to the urgent needs of the stranded migrants.”

“We were pleased to see that the IFRC and National Society's plan earlier this year, which was generously funded by the Japanese government, had a positive impact on the lives of those in need.”

Etwilb’s statement came during a joint visit with the Red Crescent and the National Disaster Response Team (NDRT) to the border region to assess the situation there.

Tunisian Red Crescent Secretary General Dr Taher Cheniti hailed the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement’s readiness and ability to “meet the challenges, alleviate suffering and provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing the unrest.”

“It was an opportunity for a collaboration between both National Societies to address the humanitarian needs of those affected by the crisis,” he said. “Meals and drinks were served on both sides of the Libyan-Tunisian border to thousands of people whose departure was delayed due to security reasons or for logistical reasons before their repatriation.

“Yet again, the Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers were able to make a difference."

The ongoing fighting in different regions of Libya put pressure on the country’s border with neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt as acts of hostility have forced large numbers of people, including foreign workers, to leave in search of a safe haven. The Libyan Red Crescent, one of the few organizations still working on ground, has provided essential medical and relief assistance since the eruption of violence in May.

Dr Cheniti said back in August that more than 6,000 people were crossing the border with Tunisia each day, most of whom were migrants who have been stranded on the Libyan side. He assured that Tunisian Red Crescent volunteers were mobilised to support streaming families with food and water.