This morning an open letter in solidarity with the protest in Tunis was sent to the Tunisian representative of UNHCR, Ursula Schulze Aboubacar, and Mr António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, himself. If you still want to sign the letter, direct an email to “choucha[aet]riseup[dot]net”
Below you will find the letter.
Dear Mrs. Ursula Schulze Aboubacar, Dear Mr. António Guterres,
we are activists and observers from different parts of the world. We were told by friends now in limbo in Choucha (with no hope either of settling there or of leaving) that they were staging a protest in Tunis addressing the UNHCR as well as the embassies of the US and the EU.
The protesters are refugees who have gone throughRefugee Status Determination(RSD) procedure and ended up not being recognised as refugees. You call them “migrants” who don’t match the criteria for the protection mandate of UNHCR. They will thus be asked to leave the country to return to their countries of origin – regardless of whether they will face persecution, civil war or poverty.
Some of us have met people who are denied access to food and medical treatment by UNHCR since October. In addition, they risk deportation as they have no regular stay in Tunisia.
We have listened to their account of the situation. There are massive discrepancies between what they tell us about what is happening in Choucha and what UNHCR would have us believe.However, not even your own staff denies that interpretation during the RSD hearings was inadequate. And you will certainly agree that it’s unacceptable to have refugees with no experience of interpretation, interpret on behalf of other refugees – especially in a situation as significant as RSD hearings which have considerable consequences for individuals. We were shocked to hear from Choucha refugees that the staff was unable to cope with processing their RSD applications.In many cases UNHCR did not abide by its own guidelines on RSD hearings
One example of this was the way in which UNHCR have treated people who have raised an objection to their first hearing owing to lack of an impartial interpreter, resulting in a biased and only partial exchange of information. They were shocked to confront the very same interpreter – who was a member of the enemy faction in conflict – at their second hearing. Such appalling mistakes must not be made by the UNHCR if it aims to retain its good reputation.
What’s more, many of our friends in Choucha report unbearable living conditions inside the camp and the fact that they feel abandoned and socially excluded by UNHCR. We would like to remind you of the horrific riots, the looting and the fire in May 2011 during which many people were injured and re-traumatised due to witnessing their friends perish in the flames.
UNHCR withdrew from the camp completely and failed to live up to its claim to protect refugees. We deplore the fact that, in the months following these events, UNHCR has analysed neither the events nor their causes.
Another situation in which UNHCR and its partner organisation withdrew from the camp because of “security related issues” was the workers’ strike in Choucha in early 2012. Obviously, UNHCR staff were worried about their own security yet they simply left the refugees in a dangerous situation with no official contact person.
We learned that the UNHCR’s 2012 budget for the camp in Choucha has been cut. Since there are fewer people in Choucha, there are fewer tasks to be performed – which is why we do not understand at all how you could introduce the “refugee-ID” and thus mark people as failed asylum seekers who are excluded from access to food and medical care. Even infants are not receiving milk. According to your definition, of course, you are not responsible for these migrants: however, it might have come to your attention that these people do not have the option either of going back to Libya or returning their countries of origin.
Staying in Tunisia but outside the camp has already resulted in the arrest of some. Thus remaining but rejected asylum seekers are defacto trapped inside the camp. To deny them humanitarian aid in these circumstances is totally unacceptable.
The Choucha camp will continue to exist until June 2013. This gives you an opportunity to amend existing shortcomings and, above all, to respond to the protesters’ more than justified claims for a reopening of their asylum applications under more appropriate conditions.
For these reasons we support the demands of our striking friends in Choucha:
To reopen the asylum cases of all rejected asylum seekers!
The recognition of everybody’s right to stay at the camp, including:
Access to food and medical care for everybody!
Access to the resettlement procedure for everybody!
See on chouchaprotest.noblogs.org