Last night was a miserable night here. Rain began falling at midday, and
by evening it had morphed into an unrelenting storm. And as I lay in
bed last night, listening to the wind whip around my little cottage, I
couldn’t help thinking about the people I’d met that day in the Shousha
transit camp on the border with Libya. What kind of a night would they
have been having, huddled against the elements with nothing but a light
tent for protection? Suddenly, my earlier preoccupation with the hotel
room window that wouldn’t quite close seemed grossly inappropriate.
Because after spending the day in the camp, I got to come back to this
comfortable hotel. And at the end of two weeks, I will get to go home.
And it is true that most of the people that I saw in the camp will
eventually get home – although they’ll be returning to a life
undoubtedly a lot more difficult than mine.
But today, I met a group of people in the camp who have no home, and no
place to which they can return. They are referred to here as “persons of
concern”, and they hail from countries like Somalia and Eritrea. No-one
in the humanitarian community would ever consider sending people back
to countries as unstable and violent as these. So the future for these
particular people now living in this temporary camp is uncertain.
Sadly, uncertainty is something that these Somalis and Eritreans know
well. In conversations with some of them today, we were told stories of
how they risked everything to flee the violence in their own countries.
They traveled across a continent to try to reach a better life in
Europe, only to end up trapped on the African shores of Libya.
And Libya was far from a promised land. Some told stories of being
detained in harsh conditions – crammed into a single cell with several
others for months and years upon end without access to the light of day,
their friends and family believing they were dead. Now Libya is at war,
and these Somalis and Eritreans have been forced once again to flee for
But unlike the majority of migrant workers who populate the transit
camp, there will be no quick departure for these “persons of concern”.
The priority for aid groups right now, of necessity, is to clear the
camp of those who have a home to which they can return. Only then can
attention be turned to the people whom I met today. But as one man said:
“I would rather live in the camp for ten years, than return to
It will not take that long. Soon, aid agencies will begin to start the
process of resettling these people in places that aren’t wracked by war,
violence, and unrest. And when that time comes, governments around the
world will have to step up and provide them with the opportunity to live
a far better life than what they have known.
I think that they all deserve at least that.
March 16, 2011
| Tagged as: Africa, Libya, Humanitarian Response, Middle East