Tunisia is a small, African nation located on the Mediterranean Sea and nestled between Algeria and Libya that transitioned to a democracy after the 2011 Arab Spring and adopted a progressive constitution in 2014. In the same year, it held elections to elect a president. Its location makes it a favorite point for refugees in Tunisia, but most see it as a transit country.
Here are 10 facts about refugees in Tunisia:
- Before 2011, only 100 refugees arrived each year in Tunisia. These refugees came primarily from Algeria, other western African countries, and Palestine.
- During the height of the Arab Spring in Libya in 2011, some 990,900 people (10 percent of Tunisia’s population) crossed the border into Tunisia. However, 77 percent of the Libyans who became refugees in Tunisia later returned to Libya.
- Since 2011, there has been a steady decrease in the number of “persons of concern” — a designation of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugees, returnees, stateless people and asylum-seekers — in Tunisia. The number of Tunisian refugees in 2017 is close to 1,000.
- Libyans arriving in Tunisia have three months before they must apply for a work permit from the Ministries of Interior. An organization called International General Services was created in Tunisia to assist refugees in becoming more self-reliant. Refugees sign one-year contracts with the service organization for jobs in fields such as maintenance in electricity and air conditioning.
- Tunisian refugees often arrive after being rescued from sea trying to get to Europe. Of the 900 people rescued by this method in 2015, 147 people claimed asylum in Tunisia.
- At the beginning of 2015, 80 percent of those who boarded boats in Libya and arrived in Tunisia were economic migrants looking for a better life. The remaining 20 percent were Eritrean, Somalian and Syrian refugees. The UNHCR assists Tunisia in determining if the person is a migrant or a refugee.
- Tunisian refugees have access to French and English language classes and may enroll in Information Technology training in the towns of Medenine and Ben Guerdane.
- The UNHCR is assisting Tunisia in drafting a new asylum law. Until that time, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination.
- All elementary school-aged refugees are enrolled in primary school once they have reached Tunisia.
- All asylum seekers in Tunisia receive health care. UNHCR covers the cost of primary and emergency visits through their partner, Tunisian Red Crescent.
Tunisia has seen the number of refugees increase greatly since 2011, and then decrease to a much smaller number today. The country’s location attracts both migrants and refugees. It has promised to adopt a national asylum law soon, which will take the burden away from the UNHCR as the sole entity conducting refugee interviews.
– Jene Cates