A more than four-decade long unresolved political conflict in Western Sahara has left behind tens of thousands Sahrawi refugees. They currently live in 5 camps in southwest Algeria with little access to outside resources, making humanitarian aid essential to their survival. The EU addresses this crisis in line with the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality.
What are the needs?
The Sahrawis largely depend on international help to survive. In the remote region where the refugee camps are located, access to basic resources such as food, water, healthcare, housing and education is limited. The extremely harsh climate of the desert furtherly exacerbates the situation.
According to the World Food Programme, there is increasing malnutrition among the Sahrawi refugee children, with global acute malnutrition among under the age of 5 at 7.6% compared to 4.7% in 2016. Half of the number of children and women also suffer from anaemia.
The largely isolated camps offer almost no employment opportunities, making refugees dependent on remittances and humanitarian aid. In such a remote location, logistics also play a key role to ensure regular distributions of relief to the refugee population.
Social cohesion and peace are extremely fragile in the camps, with young people growing frustrated by the lack of opportunities or changes due to the political stalemate. Livelihood activities are therefore crucial to reduce the risk of radicalisation or social unrest. The Sahrawi desert refugee camps are vulnerable to natural hazards such as flash floods and sandstorms. In February 2020, the country reported the first coronavirus case, leading to the adoption of temporary measures – such as a curfew - across the country and within the camps.
How are we helping?
Due to the lack of continued donor interest and low media coverage, the Sahrawi refugee situation is considered a ‘forgotten crisis’. Advocacy towards donors is key to raise the profile of the crisis, attract further funding and improve funding complementarity.
The EU is the leading donor in this crisis. In 2020, the EU committed €9 million in humanitarian funding, of which €5.4 million provided food products and went to tackle the increasing malnutrition among Sahrawi refugee children and women in the camps.
The EU supports the provision of the 2 main needs in the camps: food and clean water. Currently, the EU provides safe drinking water, including the delivery of clean water by trucks. A strategy planned for implementation over the next years includes the extension of the water network. This would reduce the dependency on water delivered by trucks, which is much less efficient. EU humanitarian aid also provides essential medicines that cover 80% of the health needs of the population in the camps. Particular attention is given to people with disabilities to alleviate their suffering, improve their well-being, and promote their inclusion in the community.
The EU is working to improve the education sector, especially the poor state of the infrastructure and sanitary facilities in schools. Improving the quality of education through a better qualification of teachers and educational staff is also a priority.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, EU partner organisations have adapted their actions to minimise the impact of the pandemic on humanitarian operations and protect their staff and beneficiaries. The EU has allocated close to €500,000 for the reinforcement of the Emergency Rooms in the local hospitals and the installation of handwashing stations.