In a few hours, if all goes well, the refugees will be on a bus headed for Tunis, where they will board a flight to Stockholm.
Goodbye Choucha, a camp in the Tunisian desert set up for people fleeing last year’s uprising in Libya that ousted strongman Moamer Kadhafi.
Khadija Mohamad and Mohamed Abdel Hussein, 32 and 25, landed in the desolate camp just across the border in March 2011. They now have a baby in tow who was born soon after their arrival.
Originally from Somalia, the couple fled Libya along with thousands of other African immigrants after the conflict broke out in February 2011, and now are among around 30 people who have been granted asylum in Sweden.
“When I found out, I felt a huge, huge joy,” Khadija Mohamad said with a big smile. “I don’t know anything about Sweden, I just hope for a happy life, stable and safe.”
She had fled strife-torn Mogadishu to wind up in a poor situation in Libya, which she fled to the windswept Choucha tent village set up by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees agency.
The camp housed up to 20,000 refugees from around 20 countries at the height of the uprising in Libya.
While Libyan refugees quickly integrated into Tunisian society thanks to familial and cultural ties, sub-Saharan immigrants mainly from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Chad wound up at Choucha.
Today there are some 3,000 people left at the camp, most of them heading for asylum in countries such as the United States, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Australia.
These countries have shown unaccustomed support for the Choucha refugees as a way of rewarding Tunisia, which, in the wake of its own revolution, took in hundreds of thousands of people who fled Libya.
More than 150 refugees are leaving this week, and the camp expects to close for asylum in the middle of next year, according to UNHCR official Isabelle Misic.
Among those who remain behind are a few who are still awaiting a reply and others whose dossiers were rejected.
A Nigerian refugee, 29-year-old Daniel Olorufemi, who has lived in the camp for more than a year, told AFP: “I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m pissed off, I feel useless, I don’t have any option. … What kind of life is this?”
Olorufemi, a musician, added: “I have dreams. Then I wake up and I see these tents.”
Misic said frustration runs high at Choucha, noting that the refugees do not have the right to work.
Tunisians working at the camp are also unhappy. With their numbers dwindling as the refugees leave, they have staged strikes and sit-ins to protest the layoffs, which has further aggravated sanitary conditions at the site.
To lighten the atmosphere, a concert was recently organised at the camp. “One year later… still in Choucha … but life goes on,” sang Olorufemi, the Nigerian musician.