February 27, 2011

Alan Chin on the Tunisia-Libya Border: Exodus

If the first inclination here is to see this hand clasp as a symbol of connection, a reaching for freedom, what it’s more indicative of — looking at that foothold, also — is the tenuous grip on present circumstances.

It has been anything but quiet at Tunisia’s Ras Jedir crossing-point where Alan Chin has been positioned the past two days. Since his last report, there has been a rapid and dramatically increasing flow of refugees coming across the border.

According to AFP, more than 10,000 people crossed just yesterday, a total of 40,000 this week, including Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Chinese. A large number are immigrant workers having been employed by multinationals, from domestic workers to skilled oil workers.

With governments teetering or toppling across the Middle East, the image of a crown embossed on this suitcase suggests that the consequences of a popular uprising can be as dire and dislocating as triumphant.

Many of the evacuees from Libya are trained foreign nationals who helped power the economy of a country rich in oil resources. If the faces are wary and expectant, it’s no surprise.

Another picture of stress: For the majority of men, now refugees, stranded at the Tunisia-Libya border, one’s bed and one’s life has been reduced to a bag, jacket, blanket and a strip of floor.

Whereas Ras Jedir seemed little more than sane ground one week ago as people struggled to evacuate from chaotic Libya, the crossing station is fast turning into a crisis for Tunisia, and a boiling pot.  According to further reports, shelter is scarce with arrivals already taxing local schools, hangers, a nearby military camp and local homes.  Egyptians, in particular, are angry, demanding help from the government for repatriation.

The UN is sending supplies and equipment to set up a temporary camp this weekend.  In the meantime, supplies are scare, resources are limited, the gazes are soul-searching and people are looking for a hand.

–Michael Shaw


You can see the archive of all the photo-reports from BagNews since the Middle East crisis began at Middle-East Uprising 2011.

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