Africans stuck in Tunisia after fleeing from Libya
RAS JIDR, Tunisia
RAS JIDR, Tunisia (Reuters) - Five months after Sudanese worker Mohammed Hassan fled civil war in Libya he is still stranded in a tent city just across the border in Tunisia.
"In my own country there is a conflict and violence. I cannot go there so where do I go now?" said Mohammed, who comes from Sudan's troubled Darfur region. He left years ago for Libya to escape violence at home.
The United Nations says almost 900,000 people, including 200,000 foreign workers, have fled Libya into Tunisia to escape fighting after rebels launched an uprising against the 41-year-rule of Muammar Gaddafi in February.
African workers in particular were frequently targeted by Gaddafi's opponents, who sometimes accused them of working for the government as mercenaries.
Most of the Libyans have gone back home or have found new places to stay, and most of the foreigners have been sent home to their countries of origin.
But around 4,000 of the foreigners, like Mohammed, cannot go home because of war or danger in their own countries, and have remained for months in this camp near the border, stateless and unsure of their future.
In March, Mohammed made his way to Ras Jidr, the main gateway between Libya and Tunisia. He has been staying in a tent city just behind the border post.
"I came with my family to Libya because life in Darfur was bad. It's still bad there. There is no stability," he said, sitting on a mat with fellow Sudanese refugees.
More than two million people have left their homes in Darfur after the government started a campaign against non-Arab rebels there. Fighting has ebbed from peak levels but there is no end to the conflict in the region, which borders eastern Libya.
With the help of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, Mohammed has filed a request for asylum. So far few Western countries have signaled a willingness to accept stranded Africans from the border camps, U.N. officials say.
"We are conducting interviews on an individual case basis and trying to speed up the process but it takes time," said Rocco Nuri, a spokesman for UNHCR in Tunisia.
Many others in the camp share the same fate, sitting in front of their white tents or under trees by the main road to the border.
"I came to Benghazi to study but I don't know what to do now," said another young Sudanese man from South Kordofan, a region which has seen fighting recently between the army and fighters allied to newly-independent South Sudan.
NO GOING BACK
The early days of the conflict in Libya saw chaos at the border and a massive effort to prevent humanitarian disaster.
The camps in Tunisia were overcrowded at the start, with fights breaking out between refugees waiting for hours for food or water. Tensions ran high between refugees from areas at conflict with each other, such as Sudanese from Darfur and the capital Khartoum.
Some governments such as Egypt sent planes to fetch their stranded citizens. Half a million Libyans returned home, according to the UNHCR. The rest have largely scattered.
The 4,000 Africans who remain, segregated by nationalities, live in tents exposed to the sun in the open plain.
"The location is unfortunate because it is close to the border and very hot," said Nuri.
Most have applied for asylum in Western countries. Some have no money to go home or no plan of where to go.
"I came to Libya in 1990 to work first as a factory worker and have done several other jobs since then," said Omar from Ivory Coast. "I don't know what to do now," he said, before heading to his tent.
While he enjoyed living and making good money in Libya, he said going back to Libya is not an option.
"It got impossible to stay in Libya, not just because of the security but the attacks against black people," he said.
Abdulrahman, also from Darfur, said he had been accused by both Gaddafi supporters and rebels of fighting for the other side. "We're in the middle of accusations from both sides."