UN agencies for protection or apparatuses for denial of rights
A group of migrants and refugees, who have been sitting-in in front of the UNHCR Zarzis office since the 9th of February 2022, announced their intention to transfer their protest to the Agency’s headquarters in Tunis; an announcement promptly followed by a Security Forces response that resulted in the arrestation of more than 18 refugees and asylum seekers on Thursday, April 14 in the afternoon, then their release on April 15, while the rest of the group, including women and children, were denied the right to movement within the land transport station of Zarzis.
The protest was initiated after the Agency adopted an undeclared policy of closing dorms and reducing the number of residents, pushing many of them to leave in exchange of alternatives that do not live up to the minimum of the migrants and refugees’ expectations “for absence of financial support”.
Among protestors, women and children who have been sitting-in for months in humiliating conditions, without any responsiveness from the Tunisian state, a signatory of the Refugee Convention. The Agency provided disrespectful and inhumane answers saying “we are not a travel agency.”
The UN Agency announced the suspension of its services to refugees and asylum seekers for the 18th and the 19th of April 2022 in response to their protest. Refugees and asylum seekers want an enabling environment where their rights are respected. Regardless of their demands’ merits, the closing doors policy in the face of the ordeal of children and women seeking refuge and being left to live in the open for extended periods does not achieve “raising awareness of the suffering of refugees, defending their rights, and coordinating efforts to support them.”
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights:
– Calls on the Tunisian state to live up to its responsibility according to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol
– holds the UNHCR responsible of the escalating humanitarian crisis caused by the absence of dialogue with refugees and asylum seekers and deepened by the closing doors policy in addition to resort to provocative statements
– Considers that the performance of the Agency in Tunisia, and in the governorate of Medenin in particular, such as the lack of appropriate assistance delivery to refugees and asylum seekers, slow files processing, and other shortcomings related to access to basic services such as health care, education, legal support, livelihoods, and financial, psychological, and social support, contributed to deepening the vulnerability of refugees and asylum seekers, especially women and children.
– Asserts the need to review and update relevant national legislation to facilitate the integration of refugees and asylum seekers and to build grounds for a legal framework for refuge alongside a sustainable national strategy for migration driven by a humanitarian approach.
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES)
Aberrahmane Hedhili, President