A four-decade long unresolved political conflict with humanitarian consequences in Western Sahara has left behind around 174 000 Sahrawi refugees. They live in five camps in south-west Algeria with little access to outside resources, making aid essential to their survival. The EU addresses this crisis in line with the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality.
The Sahrawis largely depend on outside 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 very limited.
The climate in the desert is extremely harsh. The largely isolated camps offer almost no employment opportunities, making refugees dependent on remittances and international 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 change due to the political stalemate. Livelihood activities are therefore crucial to reduce the risk of radicalisation or social unrest.
In addition, the Sahrawi desert refugee camps are prone to natural hazards such as flash floods and sandstorms.
Based on the lack of donor support and the low media coverage, the Sahrawi refugee situation is considered a ‘forgotten crisis’. Advocacy towards other donors is therefore important to raise the profile of the crisis and attract further funding.
The EU remains one of the leading donors in this crisis. Food assistance is a major component of EU humanitarian aid; in 2017, the EU committed €5 million to supply basic food products.
Water is the other main need in the Sahrawi camps. The EU supports the provision of safe drinking water; in 2017, €1.15 million was provided to ensure clean water. A strategy planned for several years includes the extension of the water network. This would reduce the dependency on water brought 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 living 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 better qualification of teachers and educational staff is also a priority.
Finally, the EU supports disaster risk reduction through the drawing up of contingency plans and concrete measures to mitigate the effects natural hazards.