European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Algeria/Western Sahara

Algeria and Western Sahara by Caroline Gluck
© EU/ECHO / Caroline Gluck

The Sahrawi refugees are the result of an unresolved political conflict in Western Sahara with humanitarian consequences which have to be addressed in line with the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality. They live in five camps in south-west Algeria with little access to outside resources. Aid is still essential to their survival.

What are the needs?

Access to basic resources such as food, water, healthcare, housing, and education is very limited. The climate in this region is extremely harsh. The largely isolated camps offer almost no employment opportunities, creating refugees’ dependency on remittances and international aid. In such a remote location, logistics also play a key role to ensure regular distributions of relief items to the refugee population. In addition to humanitarian assistance, additional mid-term resources are required to provide some future perspectives to the second generation of youth born in the desert refugee camps.

Social cohesion and peace are extremely fragile in the camps, while young people are growingly frustrated by the lack of any future perspective as a consequence of the stalemate in which the political resolution of the more than four-decade long conflict finds itself.

There is a need for awareness raising and capacity building about disaster risk reduction in the camps. The EU is supporting adequate disaster preparedness measures and preparation of contingency plans addressing multi-hazards risks. Another important factor is the safety and security of humanitarian workers, which has improved over the past years but still remains a daily challenge.

Map Algeria - Western Sahara
How are we helping?

The Sahrawi refugee situation is defined as a forgotten crisis by the European Commission, meaning that it receives little funding from the international community.

The European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO) has for decades supported the basic need of these refugees and is one of the leading donors among a handful of other donors.

Food aid is a major component of EU humanitarian funding: nearly € 5 million were allocated to supply basic food items through the World Food Programme (WFP). Additionally, WFP is piloting cash-based assistance in the camps, by distributing e-vouchers to people in need. Cash-based assistance is more cost-efficient and decreases logistics costs compared with in-kind distributions. Refugees have the dignity of choice, and cash boosts the camps' economy and will contribute to creating jobs in participating shops.

Water is one of the major concerns for the refugees and the Commission helps to ensure the availability of safe drinking water in sufficient quantities. Projects have been implemented to connect the camps directly to water sources through piped networks and water trucking.

The provision of essential medicines, training of local health personnel and the incineration of health care waste are also funded by the Commission. Support to people with disabilities, the elderly and their caregivers, and capacity building to health personnel is also ensured. The livelihood activities increase the refugee’s ability to cope for their families and decrease aid dependency. 

The EU is working to improve the education sector, especially improving the poor state of the infrastructure and the sanitary facilities of some schools, as well as strengthening the low quality of education linked to the low qualifications of teachers and educational staff.

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