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Tunisia looks to welcome refugees, migrants with new asylum law

Rather than an accidental stopping point for refugees and migrants, Tunisia, with new asylum legislation, can become a destination country.
Illegal migrants disembark as they arrive in Ben Guerdane, Tunisia, June 10, 2015. Tunisia's navy rescued more than 350 illegal migrants off its coast and was searching for hundreds more on Wednesday after they tried to sail from neighbouring Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the local Red Cross said. REUTERS/Stringer - RTX1G08U

TUNIS, Tunisia — While a lot of focus in the recent migration debate has been on Europe, many of the southern Mediterranean countries are equally struggling with the situation. Tunisia, which is next to Libya, is increasingly trying to deal with, and prepare for, the influx of people.

“God Bless Tunisia,” said “Annie,” a Nigerian who is too afraid to reveal her real name. She added, “And God punish Libya!” Annie was smuggled through Libya via Niger, eventually ending up in the Libyan coastal city of Zuwara, which has become a center for human trafficking, only 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Tunisian border. A majority of the asylum seekers arriving at the Tunisian borders enter, often unintentionally, via boats after being rescued at sea during their perilous journey from Libya. Upon arrival, each person’s status is assessed in order to determine whether the person is a refugee, which means a person running from persecution or conflict, or a migrant, i.e., someone leaving their home country in search for better economic opportunities. Tunisia is primarily a transit country. Most people arriving here are not aiming to stay but to continue to Europe. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) September 2015 fact sheet, there are currently around 928 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Tunisia, primarily from Syria.

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