Tunisia camp destroyed in fatal clashes, say UN

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Refugees gather around a burnt tent on 23 May 2011 at a refugee camp in Choucha, Tunisia
Image caption,
A fire in the Eritrean section of the camp earlier in the week killed four people

A camp in Tunisia for people fleeing the conflict in Libya has been nearly completely destroyed in clashes also involving local residents, the UN says.

At least two people died and now most of the 4,000 mainly African camp residents are staying out in the open.

"It's the worst conditions; if there is a hell, I think it's this," an Eritrean doctor at the camp told the BBC.

The violence began after protesting refugees demanding resettlement blocked a road, angering locals.

Fleeing to desert

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, some of the refugees - who are mainly from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan - wanted to be moved after a fire on Sunday night in the Eritrean section of the camp killed four people.

The next day, a large group of camp residents demanding immediate resettlement surrounded the UNHCR's offices, threatened staff and then blocked a main road to the Ras Ajdir border point, an important trade route.

Aid workers were forced to withdraw, after which rival groups within Choucha camp began fighting each other, the UN said.

The situation deteriorated when 500 local Tunisians descended on the camp and many of the residents fled to the surrounding desert in the chaos.

"Two-thirds of the camp has been either looted or burned," Firas Kayal, the UNHCR's spokesman in Tunisia, told the BBC's World Today programme.

"Various groups were fighting amongst each other, the security got totally out of control and the [Tunisian] army tried its best to control the crowds."

Mr Kayal said it took a day and a half to gain control of the situation.

Eritrean doctor Alganesh Fessaha said tensions between the various nationalities began two weeks ago after an alleged rape attempt of a young girl.

"There is no security in this camp, the Tunisian police don't intervene," she said.

In a statement, the UNHCR said its staff had returned to the camp on Thursday and were now meeting representatives from all communities and security was top of the agenda.

Since February, when the conflict in Libya began, tens of thousands of people have fled to Tunisia on Libya's western border.

The UN says it has received just more than half of the $80m (£49m) it has requested for the resulting refugee emergency in Tunisia.

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