Solidarity without borders
Monday, March 28, 2011
While war is waged within Libya, Tunisians continue to show their deep solidarity with the tens of thousands crossing the border into their country. ACT Alliance is now cooperating with local groups.
By Arne Grieg Riisnæs, ACT Alliance correspondent on the Tunisian/Libyan border
”We’re no heroes. We’re just helping our brothers,” says Aomed Aowel from the Tunisian capital. He is one of the many volunteers who have come to the border areas of his country to lend a helping hand to those who have fled war and destruction in Libya.
When the Libyan uprising began more than four weeks ago, people immediately began to flock to safety across the borders of neighbouring Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. The international community had not yet arrived with relief, and it takes time to prepare a well-organised camp that can accommodate 20,000 people. Until formal structures were in place, and without the means to travel any further, large numbers of people began to accumulate just a few kilometers into Tunisia from the border crossing at Ras Ajdir. The majority of these were migrant workers from Asia and from other countries in Africa, carrying with them little more than a few clothes and blankets each. Rumours of inhuman conditions and the great need for help spread quickly throughout Tunisia, and many responded quickly. With an outstretched hand.
”We heard how many had come, and decided that we couldn’t just sit back and do nothing,” says Aomed Aowel from Tunisia. He and two friends got into the car and drove to the border, their vehicle fully loaded with water and food. “It was chaos. Thousands of people were milling around, or just sitting on the ground. We handed out what we had, and in a few minutes, everything was gone. So we drove back to buy more. We met more people in Tunisia who wanted to help, and quickly became a group of ten. We soon found a bigger car, and then another. Those first weeks saw us distribute two tones of rice every day. Now the camp is up and running properly, and almost everyone there gets what they need from the UN and the other organisations. But we won’t stop, not yet,” says Aowel, and smiles when asked who is paying for all this.
“We’re paying, of course. And our friends and family back home.”
“How long will you continue?”
“For as long as the money lasts.”
In the long queue that snakes its way through the Sousha camp, residents wait their turn for a plate of rice and vegetables and a carton of milk. In addition to the regular, UN-led distribution of food and water, the Tunisian volunteers’ contributions help make life a little more liveable for the people in Sousha.
”I’m happy: since I arrived here nine days ago, I’ve been given what I need,” says John-John from Bangladesh, a wide, warm smile on his face. Representing the most populous group of migrants that has fled from Libya into Tunisia, he knows very well where his food and milk is coming from.
”Good people. Kind people.”
A little further into the camp, a mixture of cheering and booing can be heard. In a camp like Sousha, thousands of people have little or nothing to do but wait in the hope that they will be able to move on soon. However today, a football match is in progress, and a great many people from different countries have come to watch. The Tunisian Scouts’ Association arranged the event, having travelled to the border area to help.
“Above and beyond the primary needs such as food, water, shelter and security, activity is extremely important for people’s health. Here in the camp, there are thousands of people with nothing to do. We know from numerous previous situations like this one that such conditions can have negative consequences,” says Sarah Harrison, psychosocial expert for Church of Sweden, currently on mission for ACT Alliance.
”The Scouts that came here are roughly the same age as most of the people in the camp, and they know how to get people involved, whether by organising football matches, music events, or film showings on a big screen. We think this work is so important that we have chosen to support it financially,” says Harrison, who goes on to explain that ACT’s support has now been expanded in coordination with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
”All indications are that the situation here will be a long-term one. ACT Alliance works largely with local groups, and this is an example of good cooperation. We’re looking for more opportunities such as this one,” says Harrison.
Arne Grieg Riisnæs, communicator for ACT Alliance in Tunisia - tel. (+47) 932 50 257
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