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Tunis: The Truth is not always nice to see, the homeless are there

Tunis, la Vérité n'est pas toujours belle à voir, pourtant les sans-domiciles fixes sont là

Conférence Doustourna, La vérité n'est pas toujours belle à voir, pourtant les SDF sont là (FSM Tunis, 27 mars 2013)

The headline above, put together during the World Social Forum by a group of young activists from the Doustourna association network - part of the Medina cellule - can be seen as representative of the conference’s content, as a contribution to the World Assembly of Inhabitants. The WSF took place from 26 to 30 March 2013 in Tunis, capital of the “Jasmine” revolution, under the slogan of “Dignity-Karama".

The morning of 27 March was both rich and enriching, reuniting a talented group of experts in housing rights as well as representatives from active groups in the field; including Dabbabi Habib, director of the centre for social guidance and orientation in Tunis; Sana Ben Achour, founder of the Beyti Association for Homeless Women and the coordinator of the International Alliance of Inhabitants, Cesare Ottolini.

The homeless take the floor

Following an introduction by the chairperson of the session, Daami, a short film entitled “60 years…..in the street” was shown. The atmosphere was serious given the subject matter and one of the homeless, Mhamdi Lotfi, was also present. The main protagonist, a homeless man called Belidi Wisi Mohamed, allowed his ordeal to be shown, along with the dignity he displays despite the uncertainty of his situation caused by the system. The film also demonstrates his social and political conscience as a citizen who has been unjustly deprived of his identity card, the only document that proves his citizenship.

Yes to the shelters , but what are really needed are social housing policies

Tunis, la Vérité n'est pas toujours belle à voir, pourtant les sans-domiciles fixes sont là

Les participants à la conférence Doustourna, La vérité n'est pas toujours belle à voir, pourtant les SDF sont là (FSM Tunis, 27 mars 2013)

Contributions by the various speakers followed, starting with Dabbabi, who made a short presentation on the centre that he runs, where he temporarily houses individuals of particularly unstable social circumstances. This includes people of all ages who have been rejected by the familial and social environment; from elderly people, to single mothers, to families whose houses have collapsed or who have been evicted for non-payment. Between 450 and 500 people per year are welcomed to the centre and the number is growing every year, making it impossible for the centre to find a solution for everybody. This is despite joint efforts to put together a serious policy for social housing with various humanitarian organisations and government institutions, such as the minister for health, for work, for justice and for social affairs.

Following this, Sana Ben Achour gave a speech presenting various case studies of homeless women. These include women who have been rejected by their family because of divorce or pregnancy among other reasons. There are also girls or women who have been exploited from a young age and given by their family as a servant, or the pejoratively known “bonnes à tout faire” meaning “good for anything”. These women are exploited and treated inhumanely, then thrown to the mercy of the streets without an education or any protection. No longer a source of income for their family, they find themselves stuck in a downward spiral of misconduct that even leads them to prostitution in order to survive. 

Tunis, la Vérité n'est pas toujours belle à voir, pourtant les sans-domiciles fixes sont là

Les sans-abri au centre (FSM Tunis, 27 mars 2013).JPG

With donations only strengthening their opinion, it is clear that the solution is not charity, but to make the state face up to its real responsibilities. One of these is the land issue, which sees a deplorable lack of legal title deed for a large part of the population. In the majority of cases, this situation leads to eviction, followed by temporary rehousing in hostels where entire families are crammed into a single room. Ben Achour, while also campaigning for policies in favour of the right to housing, is currently refurbishing a disused school in the housing centre in order to efficiently address this problem while waiting for the state to finally face up to its responsibilities.

The state’s legal duty to put the right to housing in place

Cesare Ottolini underlined the importance of this conference as a contribution to the World Assembly of Inhabitants, which is organised by numerous international networks as part of the WSF 2013, with the ultimate goal being to make proposals and international communities of interest more effective with social struggles by bringing them together. Putting emphasis on the role that civil society must play in this area, he also underlined that the Tunisian state, having ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), has made a legally binding commitment to improve the living conditions for all. Notably, Article 11 of the ICESCR puts responsibility on the state to put adequate policies in place in order to defend the right to housing, nutrition and health for all.

The coordinator of the IAI emphasised the need to carry on the “Jasmine” revolution, which was started in the name of dignity, in order to address the disgraceful homeless situation in Tunisia. Civil society must help them, not only by providing them with food and other provisions, but above all must fight for legal and statutory proceedings to give them universally recognised social rights, to make the state aware of its responsibilities and to negotiate with its representatives in order to build a real and effective social justice, far from slogans with no concrete results.

The key role of civil society and the international solidarity of inhabitants

Ottolini notably emphasised the efforts undertaken on an international scale by the International Alliance of Inhabitants and their importance in ensuring that all governments, including Tunisia’s, reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were taken on to respect notably N. 7-11, which should lead to a reduction in poor housing for at least 100 million people before 2020. Unfortunately, the one billion homeless or poorly-housed people in the world will continue to increase by 700 million before the same date as a direct consequence of the global crisis, resulting from neo-liberal policies put in place by governments and international institutions. For these same reasons, it is of utmost importance to increase the pressure on these same governments through the UN and international social organisations.

On this topic, Ottolini underlined the influence of the World Assembly of Inhabitants and the International Alliance of Inhabitants and the role it can play in promoting this process in Tunisia and in North Africa. He invited Tunisian organisations involved in this area to talk and to collaborate with each other in order to have a real impact at all levels. To this effect, he mentioned the influence that the World Zero Evictions Days could play in the right to housing. These are scheduled for the month of October, which could also be a suitable date for action initiatives in Tunisia.

Thus, for the dignity of all citizens, this conference has once again proven the key role that civil society can play in tackling the root of poor housing, in coordinating its efforts with the main decision makers in the area of the right to housing, in planning concrete projects, and in ensuring that the state applies them, with the state being the key cause of the instability of the economic, social, legal and infrastructural system in Tunisia.

Following the conference, some of those present got together with the view of creating a burgeoning collaboration with the focus on North Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. The signs of a future MaghrebianAlliance of Inhabitants are on the point of being born, in collaboration with and with the expertise of, the International Alliance of Inhabitants.


« Doustourna » « My Constitution » to carry on the “Jasmine” Revolution

Tunis is the capital of the first revolution that saw millions of young people come together on the famous evening of 14 January 2011 at Avenue Habib Bourguiba to demand the right to work, to freedom, and to patriotic and civic honour.

In reality, the “Jasmine” Revolution was not so fragrant. The forced departure of the former dictator unfortunately revealed that Tunisia, under the artifice of a developing country, in reality hid frustration, unemployment and misery that Ben Ali had smothered under his iron grip for two decades.

The revolution had already been brewing for several years starting with the events in the mining district in 2008. Baazizi’s immolation was only the spark of the fire that eventually burned in a definitive, inevitable and irreversible manner.

The Doustourna association network (My Constitution), one of the fruits of the “Jasmine” revolution, is an association that came into being following the Mahdia Meetings of July 2011 during which a draft constitution was written in a civic and inclusive manner.

Despite its young age, the association occupies an important place at the heart of Tunisian civil society, propagating a political conscience and a legal culture in a direct and effective manner through a great number of actions. One of which is the opening of a national debate surrounding inadequacies and shortcomings of the provisional organisation of public authorities and the internal regulation of the Constituent Assembly. The various cellules of the network, scattered around the country, continue to organise debates and weekly round tables on the subject of the constitution and concepts of citizenship, individual and public liberties. They also attempt to establish the principles of democracy, human rights and citizenship, as well as the culture of liberty and justice. In summary, the Doustourna network is a social, civic, democratic and decentralised network that strives for a modern and democratic Tunisian state, in which only the people are king and the source of all laws and policies.

It therefore naturally follows that one of the Doustourna cellules enquired about taking on the problem of housing and in particular, those who don’t have housing: the homeless.

Info :  www.doustourna.org


The Volunteer translator for housing rights without frontiers of IAI who has collaborated on the translation of this text was:

Emma Dix


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