Open letter to the Ministers of Interior of the German Federal States and the Federal Republic of Germany

To the Ministers of Interior of the German Federal States and the Federal Republic of Germany

Open escape routes – Prevent more deaths!
A solution for the remaining refugees in Choucha camp / Tunisia

Appeal concerning the Conference of the Ministers of Interior on the 4th/5th of December 2013 in Osnabrueck
On the 193th session of the Ministers of Interior of the German Federal States (IMK) on the 8th/9th December 2011 in Wiesbaden, a program for the permanent resettlement of refugees from North Africa in Germany was adopted. In the decision “the IMK recommends to take in during the next three years every year 300 refugees.” On the 5th of April 2012, an order of the Interior Minister of Germany followed to take in certain people who had fled to Choucha (Tunisia). 201 people from this desert camp, who had escaped the war in Libya, could finally come to Germany in September 2012 and were distributed to the Federal States (find it here).
This decision was the result of appeals of the UNHCR as well as human rights and refugees organizations, among them Afrique-Europe-Interact, PRO ASYL and medico international, who had in May 2011 published the appeal “Open escape routes, take in refugees! – Voices from Choucha” PRO Asyl appreciated at that time the decision “as a step into the right direction, but it is too small. (…) Only for 2012, UNHCR needs about 172.000 places for resettlement worldwide. An urgent solution is especially needed for the problem of the Subsaharan refugees who – after fleeing or being driven out of Libya – are still in Choucha camp on the Tunisian side of the border and cannot go back to their countries of origin” (citation from here).
In the late autumn 2013, about 400 people are still living in Choucha camp which was officially closed, among them children and sick people – according to UNHCR and IOM (International Organization for Migration) 135 recognized refugees and 262 rejected asylum seekers. Provision of food, water, medical care and electricity was stopped by UNHCR at the end of June 2013, all facilities have been destroyed. Refugees are now desperately trying to stop passing cars in order to beg for water and food.
Holding out in Choucha camp and staging a sit-in for already more than six months now at the UNHCR office in Tunis, the refugees are demanding to find a durable solution in countries with effective asylum systems. “Local integration”, which is offered by UNHCR, does not work and there is no legal frame for it. Until now, it is not clear when and if the resident permits will be actually issued and whether they will effectively stop deportations and police harassment. Furthermore, locally integrated refugees do not have the right to family reunion. Promised support in daily life, like help to find jobs, and free accommodation have not materialized, so that refugees have to find, and pay for, their rooms from the little money they receive only for a short time. The situation in Tunisia remains instable. Politically motivated murders and the lack of economic development has lead to a lack of security for Tunisians, even more for refugees and other people from Subsaharan Africa, who in addition, face daily experience of racism. Racist tendencies in the Tunisian society increase with the competition for almost not existing working places.
Rejected asylum seekers, who cannot go back to their countries of origin because of political and/or social reasons, accuse UNHCR of grave mistakes in their procedures, which lead to their rejection. In some cases, interpreters were employed who came from the other side of a conflict in their countries of origin. Also the procedures were often done in a hurry and by staff without experiences. (find more information here)
Desperately seeking a better life, some of the refugees signed up for local integration, but have taken the money from the UNHCR to pay for the clandestine passage on boats across the Mediterranean, putting their lives in danger (See talks with refugees in Choucha camp and http://taz.de/Sudanese-ueber-Flucht/!124946/).
On the 3rd of October, more than 300 people died, after a boat with hundreds of people sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Politicians called upon EU Member States to “show solidarity both with migrants and with countries that are experiencing increasing migratory flows” (C. Malmström), and the Pope called what happened near Lampedusa “a shame”. More and more people demand to open legal escape routes in order to prevent the deaths of more people, instead of closing Europe’s borders.
In contrast to the EU Council, in which – among other states – Germany blocked decisions to change the policy of taking in refugees, the EU Parliament decided on the 23rd of October 2013: “Member States to take measures to enable asylum seekers to access the Union asylum system in a safe and fair manner” and to address acute needs through resettlement in addition to existing national quotas and through humanitarian admission.6
The remaining refugees in Choucha and in front of the UNHCR office in Tunis are known by their names to UNHCR and authorities. Their desperation is increasing with the coming winter. UNHCR and European governments will at least partly be guilty of the deaths of these people, if they are not offered a human solution and they do not see any other way than risking their lives by taking boats towards Europe.
That is why we demand from the Ministers of Interior of the German Federal States:
To take in the remaining refugees from Choucha camp immediately to Germany in the context of the resettlement program adopted by the IMK;
In view of the dramatic situation in North Africa and other countries of origin and transit of refugees and of thousands of deaths on the Mediterranean, to increase the number of places to take in refugees in Germany;
On the Federal and EU level, to speak up for a save access to Europe, e.g. also by applications at German Embassies in other countries, on sea and at borders.
During the coming days, refugees from Choucha camp in Tunisia will ask for an appointment at the German Embassy in Tunis in order to demand – as refugees from war – access to a country, where they can live safely. We ask the German Ministers of Interior to speak up for the access of these refugees to the German Embassy in Tunis and to offer them – e.g. in the context of the resettlement program of the IMK – a perspective of real protection, which is not possible in Tunisia because of the instable situation. By providing such a solution, Germany could at least contribute a little bit to prevent more deaths at the EU borders.

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