On Tunisia-Libya border
More join camp
Morshed Ali Khan writes from the spot where thousands of Bangladeshi workers have taken shelter after fleeing the Libyan upheaval
The government’s promise to take all stranded Bangladeshis home in three days from the Choucha camp appears a far cry with more displaced people arriving here from Libya and fewer aircraft taking them home.
Yesterday, a Biman flight in the morning and a Jordanian flag carrier chartered by the IOM have taken home 555 stranded Bangladeshis. These flights have not helped much in reducing the number of stranded Bangladeshis at Choucha camp as between March 20 and March 21, 527 Bangladeshis entered Tunisia through the Ras Jdir border and into Choucha camp.
“We heard a Biman flight might be here tomorrow morning [today],” said Chongrak Khemwirot of the IOM at the airport.
Aid workers here said until last Friday it was obvious that the Bangladeshis were given top priority for repatriation with up to nine flights a day chartered by the IOM. “But the priority seemed to be over from Saturday as fewer and fewer aircraft were made available for them,” said an aid worker in Choucha. At one point the repatriation operation was so intense that if it continued for two more days at the same pace, all Bangladeshis would have been home by now, they said.
The IOM, however, continued repatriating nationals of different African countries stranded at Choucha. Over the last five days thousands of African nationals were seen boarding buses for the airport.
Officials were also trying to count again how many Bangladeshis were still in the camp. At the beginning of this week they said there were just over 1,500 Bangladeshis left. But Tuesday the number looked much higher.
Tuesday, hundreds of stranded Bangladeshi migrants crowded the IOM office in Choucha to hear from officials who among them would be able to board the two flights yesterday. As the two Bangladeshi IOM officials, Shakil Mansoor and Saiful Islam Shaheen, drafted from the IOM’s Dhaka office, frantically tried to help, the crowd of Bangladeshis grew more and more impatient.
“We are now tired, many of us are falling sick sleeping in the tents in this cold weather for days without proper food,” said Jalaluddin from Koshba, Brahmanbaria, who walked on a crutch as his right leg was broken in an accident in Libya four months ago.
A deep resentment prevailed among many of the stranded Bangladeshis who arrived over two weeks ago at the camp but were unable to leave as the authorities could not find their passports.
“We arrived here on March 11 and handed over passports to the authorities, many people who came later have left but whenever we ask them about our passports they offer us IOM travel passes, suggesting that the passports have been misplaced in the melee,” said Mohammad Badruddoza from Noakhali.
I tried for an official version of the story just to be told that some Bangladeshi passports have been mixed up with passports of thousands of other nationals.
The Tunisian army colonel, in-charge of passports and security, told me Tuesday evening that all passports would soon be traced. “I can guarantee you not a single passport is missing, we shall find them all,” said the colonel, adding, “If some people have to go home they have the option of opting for a travel pass.”
Meanwhile, the IOM yesterday withdrew two of its four Bangladeshi officials on the ground in Choucha, sources confirmed.
“It looks like it is going to take longer for these stranded people to return home,” said an aid worker manning the kitchens at Choucha.
The IOM, however, had warned of its fund constraints for the on-going evacuation and repatriation operations arising from the Libyan crisis. Last week, the IOM and the UNHCR in a joint communiqué appealed to developed countries to provide funds for what it said were history’s largest evacuation and repatriation operations centring the Libyan crisis.
Courtesy of The Daily Star