May 5, 2011 / 6:10 PM / 9 years ago

Libyan refugees find doors wide open in Tunisia

* Thousands fleeing fighting find shelter in Tunisian homes

* Rebels rest before returning to fight

* Battle rages in Western Mountains for supply route

By Tarek Amara

DEHIBA, Tunisia, May 5 (Reuters) - These days, Habib has twice as many mouths to feed, his own family of six and the six Libyans from across the border eating couscous and fruit at his table in the Tunisian town of Dehiba.

Tunisians in the desert south, a region of deep poverty and unemployment, have opened their doors to neighbouring Libyans whose revolt against the 41-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi has spiralled into civil war.

The uprisings that have swept the Arab world began in Tunisia, where the president of 23 years was toppled in January by a month of popular protests.

“You can see that I am a poor man but that doesn’t mean you don’t help your brothers,” Habib told Reuters. “All we have is this home and food to share, and that is what we do.”

Habib’s guests fled Zintan, a town in Libya’s Western Mountains held by rebels trying to keep open a vital supply route from Tunisia but who find themselves besieged by the artillery of government forces.

He houses men in one room, women in another. They live off the six dollars, sometimes less, Habib earns per day as a merchant.

An estimated 20,000 refugees have found shelter in Dehiba, a border town of 5,000, some in camps, most in the homes of strangers. Aid groups believe about 40,000 in total have fled into Tunisia’s Tataouine province.

Rebels, too, get a place to rest before returning to the fight.

“This is the least we can do,” said a Tunisian man named Mohammed, who said three rebels were staying in his home in Dehiba. “If the Tunisian authorities allow us, we will fight alongside the rebels against the dictator.”

There have been at least two instances in the past week when artillery fire from Libya has landed on or near Dehiba. On April 29, pro-Gaddafi forces tore across the border in pursuit of rebels and fought a gunbattle with Tunisian troops in the frontier town.

Some refugees appear overwhelmed by the generosity.

“They are giving their children’s milk to my daughter,” said Nasser, a Libyan living with his wife and two daughters in the home of a Tunisian family. “It’s something incredible, we will not forget this for the rest of our lives.”

In Tataouine city, calls for residents to offer help and medicine are broadcast on the radio.

Salim, an unemployed Tunisian, said he had been part of protests in Tunisia against unemployment but was now volunteering at a charity helping refugees.

“How can I sleep while my brother Libyans are wondering how they will spend their days in Tunisia?” he said. “We must give them everything they need.” (Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

0 : 0
  • narrow-browser-and-phone
  • medium-browser-and-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser
  • wide-browser-and-larger
  • medium-browser-and-landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser-and-larger
  • above-phone
  • portrait-tablet-and-above
  • above-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet-and-above
  • landscape-tablet-and-medium-wide-browser
  • portrait-tablet-and-below
  • landscape-tablet-and-below