Disease threatens southern Tunisia refugee camps

By Monia Ghanmi for Magharebia in Tunis – 21/07/11

The summer temperature hike brings new dangers for refugees who fled the war in Libya for southern Tunisia.

Thirty-nine cases of tuberculosis and 29 cases of AIDS have been recorded on the border with Libya, the Tunisian health ministry announced on Monday (July 18th).

The infections are worrisome because they are of long duration, said Mongi Slim, the head of the Tunisian Red Crescent in Medenine. There are regular check-ups for these cases in local hospitals, he added.

Slim, however, reassured that the cases did not constitute an extreme danger and could be addressed and controlled. A number of actions to prevent the spread of the infections had taken place, where carriers of these diseases were isolated from the rest of the displaced families to prevent any intermingling, he said.

According to Slim, the public health administration has intensified its presence in the camps to avoid potential health problems that could result from high temperatures, especially food poisoning, through periodic field visits to refugee shelter centres to determine the availability of basic hygiene conditions.

More than 5,000 wounded Libyans have been recorded on the border along with 40 deaths since the conflict broke out in February, Nabil Ben Salah, a representative of the Tunisian health ministry, told reporters on Monday.

Still, he maintained that the health situation was under control, and hospital facilities were supplied with numerous ambulances, medical and quasi-medical staff, as well as sanitary materials.

The increasing summer heat has exposed many refugees, particularly children and the elderly, to the risks of sun strokes and dehydration.

Relief organisations have failed to perform their duties in providing medicine, food and health care, complained Libyan refugee Salah Al-Magariaf.

In the Remada camp, displaced families were evacuated, with many housed in school auditoriums and with Tunisian families. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the camp hosts 909 refugees.

Preparations also took off in the Dhiba camp, created by the UAE Red Crescent three months ago, to equip two giant tents with air-conditioning systems for nearly 200 refugees.

Meanwhile, Libyan families from the north of the country continue to find havens in Tunisia following the security deterioration in the areas between Ajdabiya and Brega. The Dhiba border crossing last week saw a fresh influx of refugees, including those who had earlier returned to their towns, thinking that security conditions had improved.

“We thought that the situation had calmed down,” said Mohamed Ben Aissa. “I left my children with a friendly Tunisian family. My wife, my brothers and me returned to my town of al-Qalaa in order to rebuild our house before the fasting month, but the on-going battles forced us to go back to Tunisia.”

“Here, everyone will feel safe,” he added. “I hope the situation does not continue long so soon we can return once and for all.”


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