Dire living conditions drives migrants to take their own lives at refugee shelter in Tunisia

A number of migrants living at a UNHCR facility in Tunisia have attempted to take their own lives due to the deplorable living conditions and lack of prospects.  

On 11 March 2019, a 16-year-old Eritrean boy living at the centre drank acid and slit his wrists. He was rushed to the local hospital and later moved to a psychiatric ward where he is monitored and sedated to keep him calm. In a news report by Republicca, he said, “I do not feel well here and I do not understand why they took me to this place. No one speaks my language and I am isolated and under watch.”

The feelings of hopelessness and extreme distress are shared by many migrants at the centre. Recently, a female Eritrean migrant kept at the facility was taken to hospital after drinking bleach.

The refugee centre in the Tunisian city of Medenine houses hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees, who have fled Libya in an attempt to seek asylum in Tunisia. This includes unaccompanied minors, families with children and single women, mostly from Eritrea as well as other parts of the Horn of Africa including Ethiopia and Sudan.

In January 2019, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights issued a report about the deplorable living conditions at the centre. Adults and children living at the centre have to share the same showers and toilets which are rarely cleaned. During the winter, there is a shortage of warm blankets and clothes and these are often not distributed in time. Hot water is also rarely available and sometimes there is no water at all. Migrants are provided with less than USD 7 per week of food vouchers, which barely covers the cost of food.

Women living at the centre lack privacy and some have reported being sexually assaulted in the showers. Many migrants living at the centre report feeling isolated and do not have many opportunities to contact their families.

Many migrants fleeing Libya have found themselves at the centre. One Eritrean man staying at the centre said, “We stayed in Libya for over a year. My wife had a miscarriage due to torture. I buried my friends with my bare hands. They sold us and kidnapped us. Now that we are finally out of this hell, we asked to see a doctor, but since we arrived no one has visited us.”

These migrants have been protesting against the dire conditions at the centre. At a recent protest outside the centre, around 350 asylum seekers and refugees originally from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia demanded better access to medical support and to live their lives with dignity. One slogan said: “We came from Libya. Enough prisons. We want to be free.”

TMP – 09/04/2019

Photo: Sara Creta / Twitter. Refugees and asylum seekers at UNHCR centres in Medenine stage a protest.