lavish camp is currently winning the competition to best provide for
Libyans fleeing the civil war, even outperforming the UN, but to what
Libyan refugees watch flat-screen TV at a new refugee camp administered by the Qatari government / Reuters
TATAOINE, Tunisia -- It's been perhaps the only feel-good story since the Arab Spring bogged down in the Libyan desert: the open-arms welcome Libyan families have received from their neighbors to the west, Tunisia. In far southern Tunisia, which has also become the base of a complex supply chain that reaches to rebel front lines against Qaddafi, the UN estimates as many as 50,000 people have found shelter with individual Tunisian families since February, leaving a relatively manageable burden of only 7,000 to 10,000 to shelter in three tent camps around the town of Tataoine. Amid the generosity, however, a strange dynamic has emerged that raises questions about how aid is delivered to refugee populations. With only one of the camps under UN administration, the second run by the UAE, and the third by the government of Qatar, a market for aid has emerged, with refugees choosing between the Emirates, Qatar, and UN camps. Is refugee care something you should have to shop for? Are there standards? Who's in charge? How do you shop for refugee accommodation?
"Many people come here because it is very clean," said Nuada Suliman Aker, a 15-year-old who fled Nalut in April and now looks after elementary-age children at a small school housed in a tent at the Qatari camp. Her father, a doctor, stayed behind to treat wounded soldiers in Nilut's hospital. Compared to the Emirates camp, which is nice enough, the Qatar-run camp is spectacular. Qataris know desert shelter, and the camp's tents are lined with a light, red fabric that makes the canvas seem less martial and the Saharan light less blinding. The bathrooms, complete with shower, are reasonably free of odor, and drinking water is segregated between men and women with subtle clarity. A playground, with bright plastic climbing toys and cartoons painted on the wall, adds a note of cheer to a scene that is, by any reasonable measure, miserable.