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|2020 year-end results|
|1,200||people of concern received psychosocial support|
|416||people of concern received shelter support|
|411||people of concern received legal assistance|
|287||registered refugee children enrolled in primary education|
|200||people of concern had access to wage employment|
|110||people of concern submitted for resettlement|
|2021 planning figures|
|12,000||people of concern will be registered by the end of 2021, including 6,000 individuals who will be registered as part of mixed movements|
|1,200||individuals will be provided with psychosocial support|
|200||individuals will be supported with access to waged employment|
People of Concern
Operational contextIn 2020, Tunisia witnessed a persistent economic crisis, political uncertainty and growing frustration among disenfranchised populations, as COVID-19 presented an unparalleled challenge and further strained the political and economic situation. Despite extended periods of border closures with Libya and Algeria due to national measures to combat the pandemic, UNHCR observed a growing number of asylum-seekers arriving from sub-Saharan Africa, with the overall population of refugees and asylum-seekers doubling from the year prior to 6,355 people. Tunisia continued to host refugees fleeing conflicts across the region—primarily from Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria), and Yemen, with limited capacity to absorb and accommodate a steady rise in arrivals, resulting in additional financial and staffing needs for UNHCR.
During the year, there was a significant increase in interceptions by authorities on land and at sea, with an approximately 400% increase in people setting out for Europe across the central Mediterranean. Key drivers for departures from Tunisia include the economic situation in the south, amplified by the closure of the two land border crossings with Libya, rising youth unemployment, lack of socioeconomic inclusion for migrants and refugees, as well as a pull factor from diasporas in Europe.
While UNHCR remained the sole entity responsible for conducting registration and refugee status determination (RSD) on behalf of the Tunisian Government, UNHCR continued advocacy efforts towards the adoption of a national asylum law, while encouraging capacity-building to foster good practices in the interim.
Population trendsThe operation registered a total of 6,354 people of concern as of 31 December 2020, a more than 100% increase from the year prior; 2,591 (41%) were refugees and 3,710 (57%) asylum-seekers. Some 3,237 new refugees and asylum-seekers were recorded in 2020—a 70% increase from 2019—with the majority arriving by land and air. Most of the cases profiled were male (82%) while a minority (18%) were female.
Some 599 people benefited from refugee status determination (RSD) interviews; 304 were granted refugee status by end-2020 (a recognition rate of 55%) while over 3,000 registered people were awaiting RSD procedures to be finalized. Some 1,400 individuals were still pending registration.
The nationality of asylum-seekers became more diverse, with people originating from 45 countries (versus only 20 nationalities in 2019), indicating Tunisia remains a hub for mixed migration along the central Mediterranean route.
Syrian arrivals increased by 30% compared to 2019 (654 in 2020 versus 494 in 2019), while the number of Ivorian arrivals more than tripled, with 1,864 in 2020 versus 547 in 2019.
- In addition to supporting the adoption of the draft national asylum law while continuing capacity building to foster good practices in the interim, UNHCR worked closely with Tunisian authorities to ensure the inclusion of PoCs into national services and social protections. Following a Ministerial decree, registered refugees in receipt of an official employment contract were permitted to enroll under the Tunisia Social Security (CNSS), allowing access to certain national services such as health, insurance, and retirement benefits. This was reinforced during the first Mayor’s Forum on Inclusive Cities in North Africa hosted by Tunisia, which underlined continued future engagement towards allowing refugees and asylum-seekers to access national services.
- In 2020, UNHCR launched the updated emergency preparedness and response plan, estimating the operation’s prioritized needs to be at USD 3.2 million to cover protection services and cash assistance for vulnerable refugees, asylum-seekers and host communities affected by COVID-19, and to support national COVID-19 response efforts.
- UNHCR worked to ensure essential services were provided to people of concern, to reduce the risk of onward sea journeys across the central Mediterranean or return to Libya, including access to health services (2,365 of people of concern received health assistance) , emergency shelter (615 PoC placed in temporary accommodation, while reception centres were improved) food and multipurpose cash assistance (428 individual received multipurpose cash grants, while 494 received cash for food assistance), case management, mental health and psychosocial support (701 individual benefited from psychosocial support, 914 psychosocial consultations provided, and 1,089 consultations were conducted remotely) as well as reinforcing communication with communities and promoting local empowerment.
- Due to the absence of a national legal framework on asylum, refugees and asylum-seekers do not yet have formal legal status and could not secure residency permits, preventing them from seeking livelihood opportunities as well as certain basic services.
- Reception capacity remained overstretched, requiring additional temporary shelter. UNHCR responded to urgent needs by providing temporary accommodation in urban areas for affected people.
- The economic situation in Tunisia continued to challenge the socioeconomic inclusion of refugees and asylum-seekers, resulting in difficulties in accessing livelihoods, formal work opportunities and sustainable income-generating activities.
- A sharp increase in the number of refugees and asylum-seekers hindered UNHCR’s capacity to conduct timely registration and RSD, resulting in considerable backlogs for both registration and RSD of 8-12 months.
- Access to local specialized services remained limited, including shelter assistance, psycho-social support, and services for survivors of violence and abuse, making the population of concern almost entirely dependent on UNHCR support in these areas.
Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)Flexible funding allowed UNHCR to provide more than 2,500 people of concern with cash assistance following the outbreak of the pandemic to meet their immediate needs.
More than 3,000 hygiene kits, tents and blankets were distributed to people of concern and to public hospitals. UNHCR also provided emergency accommodation during the lockdown period in 2020 for asylum-seekers rescued during sea interceptions.
Refugees and asylum-seekers were provided with remote counselling during lockdown, including psychosocial support, case management, and other remote protection services, with dedicated teams also present at UNHCR-managed shelters.
Working environmentRefugees and asylum-seekers arrive to Tunisia in the context of mixed population movements from neighbouring countries and from sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of refugees in Tunisia are from the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria). People of concern arrive through regular and irregular entry points by air, land and sea or are rescued /intercepted at sea. While a major influx from Libya cannot be ruled out, the refugee population in Tunisia is anticipated to increase from some 2,490 (as of August 2019) to 5,000 by the end of 2020, given the political instability and mixed population movements facing the region. Tunisia will continue to be challenged by the socio-economic crisis, especially in the centre and south of the country, where most refugees are hosted.
Tunisia pursues an open-door policy for those fleeing neighbouring countries in fear of violence and persecution. Refugees and asylum-seekers can access public health services and education, with UNHCR’s support. Social services, namely for child protection, have been inclusive of refugees and asylum-seekers, although resources are a constraint. The overall protection environment in 2020 is likely to remain favourable to refugees and asylum-seekers, provided humanitarian actors remain responsive to mixed population movements and the potential increase of people of concern.
In 2020, UNHCR will selectively engage with organizations to support their capacity building and advocacy initiatives, with the aim of improving refugees and asylum seekers’ access to protection. UNHCR will also continue leading the coordination platform for mixed population movements in the south of the country.
Key prioritiesIn 2020, UNHCR will focus on:
- Advocating for the adoption of the draft national asylum law and, through continued capacity building, foster good practices in the interim.
- Continuing profiling, registration and refugee status determination to identify people in need of international protection in the context of mixed population movements.
- Promoting refugees and asylum-seekers’ self-reliance through access to livelihoods and basic services; prioritizing direct assistance to the most vulnerable.