Tunisia’s neutral role in Libya is becoming increasingly difficult. For the second time in a week authorities have discovered a stockpile of weapons near the town of Ben Gardane close to Tunisia’s border with Libya.
The find included ammunition, 20 rocket propelled grenades, 40 anti-tank mines, and assault rifles. For now Tunisia is not taking sides in its neighbour’s affairs. It has a consular presence in both Tripoli, and in Benghazi.
However, Tunisian blogger and international relations researcher says a diplomatic presence does not necessarily mean recognition.
“Tunisia will replay its 2011 policy,” Tunisian blogger, Youssef Cherif said. “It will cope with what it has, deal with all sides as long as there is no clear winner, and keep it that way until changes happen.”
There are around two million Libyans living in Tunisia according to Tunisia’s foreign ministry. Libyans can stay for three months, but after that they must leave and re-enter the country. Tunisia offers Libyans safety, but little more, it is difficult to find work in a country where around one in five is unemployed.
Libyans can not buy property without special permission, so most people have to rent, which is pushing up the cost of living for everyone.
Start from scratch
Reda Fhelboom is a journalist and Human Rights Activist for Libyan centre for defending freedom of journalists “HESN”.
He says the situation for Libyans in Tunisia is complicated. “Libyans need to apply to the Tunisian interior ministry to get permission to work, and it is a long process. Journalists need permission from the media office at the Tunisian government.”
Mohamed Busetta who is also a former journalist is living off his savings. He had to leave Tripoli pretty quickly last year, when his house in the capital was raided by fighters. He is from Zintan a town in the west, and yet another victim of rival armed groups fighting for control of the country.
“It is very hard and it hurts. I spent 30 years building my life, and in a split second it was lost. I have to start from scratch all over again.”
I sit in on a media training course Mohamed and other Libyans have signed up for. They are learning about conflict reporting, and the differences between violence orientated journalism and conflict sensitive journalism. Their teacher talks about the importance of truth, and focusing on people, and peace initiatives.
They are hopeful that eventually they will find employment in Tunisia or perhaps in Europe. Returning home is not an option right now for many Libyans. They are forced to watch the terrible events in their country from afar.