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Tunisia, Choucha Camp: a life between arriving and leaving

20-04-2011 Feature

Over 250,000 people are estimated to have crossed into Tunisia from Libya since 20 February, fleeing the violence in that country. Almost 4,000 people are still living in Choucha transit camp, 7 km from the border. Despite living in tents under difficult conditions, and despite their uncertain future, these people are trying to live as normal life as possible.

Where there’s water, there’s life …

In the weeks that followed the arrival of the first people fleeing the fighting in Libya, bottles of mineral water were everywhere in Choucha Camp. The solidarity shown by the Tunisian people drew admiration from those of many nationalities who entered Tunisia via the crossing point at Ras Jdir. Despite this solidarity, however, there was a need for a longer-term solution for these people. They had arrived in Tunisia with no resources, and were not going to be able to leave southern Tunisia any time soon.

Everything changed when ICRC engineers set up water points around the camp. Now, men take advantage of the heat of the day to enjoy an al fresco shower. In the mornings, the women take their buckets, bowls and detergent (provided by the ICRC) to the water points to do the laundry. Guy ropes are pressed into service as washing lines and trees become temporary drying racks.

A taste of home

Even as the first tents were springing up, local people began handing out baguettes, tuna sandwiches, bottled water, etc., in a spontaneous gesture of solidarity.

A group of Tunisians wanted to help. They contacted Abdessalem Jnissan, a cook from the neighbouring town of Ben Guerdane, and asked him to cook for the temporary residents of the camp. Abdessalem turned up at Choucha with everything he needed – cooking pots, knives, cookers and gas bottles. The ICRC provided support in the form of food, and helped him reorganize the kitchen.

So, since February, Abdessalem has been coming to the camp every day. Surrounded by assistant cooks and volunteers from the Tunisian Red Crescent, he spends his days behind the stove. In this field kitchen, everyone has a job: cleaning vegetables, chopping them, supervising the actual cooking or serving. Ask the chef “Are we having couscous or rice today?” and you’ll always get the same answer, delivered with a broad smile: ”A bit of each!” And there are good reasons for that … At one stage, many of the camp’s residents were Bengalis, who are used to eating rice. So Abdessalem recruited a Bengali cook to ensure that there would always be enough rice on the menu.

Abdessalem’s kitchen is a roaring success. There’s nothing like a good hot meal to remind people of home!


Photos

Choucha Camp, Tunisia. Cook Abdessalem Jnissan prepares couscous with the assistance of a volunteer from the Tunisian Red Crescent. 

Choucha Camp, Tunisia. Cook Abdessalem Jnissan prepares couscous with the assistance of a volunteer from the Tunisian Red Crescent.
© ICRC / S. Beltifa / v-p-tn-e-00227

Choucha Camp, Tunisia. A woman washes clothes near a water point. 

Choucha Camp, Tunisia. A woman washes clothes near a water point.
© ICRC / S. Beltifa / v-p-tn-e-00229

Choucha Camp, Tunisia. The men of the camp fill their buckets at a tapstand. 

Choucha Camp, Tunisia. The men of the camp fill their buckets at a tapstand.
© ICRC / S. Beltifa / v-p-tn-e-00228