Since an agreement was signed with the EU, fewer refugees have arrived in Europe from Tunisia. Instead, around 70,000 people wait in makeshift camps.

Men stand and crouch in front of tents on sandy ground

Abubaker Bangura lives with his Ivorian family of seven in a makeshift tent near the Tunisian coast. Photo: Mirco Keilberth

“It's the only house we have right now,” says Abubaker Bangura. The Ivory Coast engineer lives with his family in a makeshift tent made of plastic sheets, wooden slats and nylon straps. It is terribly cold at night. There are bugs and there is almost no possibility to shower. All seven residents suffer from skin diseases.

Bangura's sister, Azza, her husband Mohamed, Bangura's wife, Leoni, and their cousins ​​sleep in alternating shifts on the three wool blankets they have had at their disposal for eight months. Only her three-year-old daughter Lucille sleeps on her own mattress. Bangura had found them as pots and plates in a garbage dump.

More than 3,000 people, including about 300 babies, live in the seemingly endless field of olive trees, known locally simply as “KM 30.” There is no medical care or enough food. Many have to go hungry. The indicated distance refers to the Tunisian commercial metropolis of Sfax, which is located 30 kilometers south of the makeshift housing complex.

Since October last year, around 70,000 migrants and refugees from 15 countries have been living along the rural road between the city of 400,000 inhabitants and the tourist town of Mahdia, which is already fully booked this summer. They hope to continue their journey to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

There are almost no ships leaving anymore.

But since the EU reached a cooperation agreement with Tunisia to stop migration, almost no ships have left the 40 kilometer-long coastal strip. National Guard patrols search for smugglers on the beaches of the fishing towns of La Looza and El Amra.

Generally at night they try to bring welded metal boats with capacity for 40 passengers each to the beach in a few hours, without anyone noticing them. The trip to Europe lasts up to 20 hours. The smugglers charge the equivalent of 12,000 euros for the boat and the outboard motor.

The number of arrivals to Europe has decreased dramatically compared to last year. No one knows how many did not survive the crossing. Unlike the wooden boats used in Libya and southern Tunisia, metal boats built without keels sink in light waves without leaving a trace. “I haven't met anyone in kilometer 30 who knows how to swim,” says Abubakr Bangura. “But we have to get out of here whether we like it or not.”

The situation is reaching a critical point

There are no toilets, school or other facilities at the site, which belongs to a Tunisian olive grower. “Although some have been living here for more than a year, neither the UN refugee agency UNHCR nor the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped,” says Bangura, 35. IOM speaks publicly about repatriation flights. “But we don't see anything about it either.”

There have been other camps in the area for months: at kilometers 19, 25, 32 and 36. None of them have caused big headlines. The situation has worsened in recent weeks. Since the authorities prohibit Tunisians from employing immigrants as day laborers, as was common practice in previous years, the women in the El Amra camps now turn to begging. Men no longer dare to leave the fields.

“Anyone found by the police on the country road has to hand over all their money and mobile phone,” says Abraham, a wiry man from Guiney-Conkry who does not want to give his last name. During his visit to El Amra, the Taz witnessed several times how officials stopped migrants on the rural road and apparently took their belongings.

But there are also always gestures of humanity. “Many Tunisians give me food or change; they are shocked by our situation,” says Mary Saw. The 27-year-old asks for an average of 10 euros a day at El Amra. He uses it to buy food for five fellow travelers. “If I can't get something, sometimes we don't eat for days.”

The goal is to scare people away.

Tunisia map

Four years ago he arrived in Europe from Guinea passing through Mali, Algeria and Libya. “My goal is Europe, the promised land,” she says. Like many in the countryside, she believes that the Tunisian authorities are not deliberately improving living conditions. The goal is to discourage people from even reaching Europe through Tunisia. But “the deterrence policy is not working. At home, like almost everyone here, I have no hope of getting a job or any kind of security in life.”

The price of seeking a better life is high. Mary Saw was imprisoned in the Libyan city of Sabratah for three months. There she was raped several times. During the joint march through the Libyan desert towards Tunisia, a fellow traveler went out in the morning to fetch water. She has been missing since then. He left behind her two-year-old daughter Rabiate, who is now in the care of Mary's sister.

Angelou Happyvidar, president of Kilometer 30

“Believe me, almost none of us part voluntarily.”

Most residents of “Kilometer 30” have had similar traumatic experiences on their journey so far. In the countryside they have now provided themselves with a common organizational structure. The spokespersons of the 15 nations represented have appointed Angelou Happyvidar, 35, a native of Lagos, as president of the camp. “It's more of a symbolic title,” she tells the taz. “But we want to live together in peace until we leave for Europe and make it clear to the authorities that we do not represent any danger.”

There is no way back to Nigeria for the man with the stage name. “I was beaten and threatened with death several times because of my sexual orientation. “So don't tell me how dangerous the crossing to Lampedusa is,” he says. “Believe me, almost none of us left voluntarily.”

In cases of violence between married couples or conflicts during daily soccer matches, the president, who always wears a red cap, imposes small fines. During her tours, Angelou Happyvidar explains the rules of coexistence to the new arrivals who cross the Libyan or Algerian border every day.

He doesn't even have hope that the situation will improve soon: “I can only ask the authorities to let us move forward,” he says. “Neither the locals want us here nor do we want to stay here. In Europe, however, we can help the economy with our workforce.”

Frustration increases among the Tunisian population

But after numerous deportation attempts by the Tunisian coast guard and a new work ban, almost none of the 70,000 migrants living north of Sfax currently have the money to pay the smugglers.

And so the population of El Amra feels increasingly frustrated. Considering the 7 million refugees in Sudan, kiosk owner Mohamed Azizi fears that the number of “Africans” will continue to increase. “Last year there was no tension between us, the inhabitants of El Amra, and the people of the countryside,” he says. “But since the authorities in Tunisia, Sfax and Brussels appointed us border guards for Europe, the mood has intensified.” As a solution, he only has a joke: “The immigrants stay here and we, Tunisians, go to Europe.”

An ambulance arrives at the field. The neighbors called him: A very pregnant woman needs to go to a clinic. National Guard officials who appear at the camp during Taz's visit are impressed by the immigrants' organization.

But just a few days later, early in the morning a column of the National Guard arrived with three bulldozers. “Only the tents of families with children were left standing, the others were destroyed,” President Angelou Happyvidar calmly tells taz by phone. “Now we go back to sleeping outside without protection.”

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