The political conflict in Western Sahara, unresolved for over 4 decades, has left thousands of Sahrawi refugees stranded. They live in 5 isolated camps in Southwest Algeria with little access to resources, making humanitarian aid essential to their survival.
The EU is a long-standing donor of humanitarian aid to the refugee population in line with the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality.
What are the needs?
The Sahrawis largely depend on international aid to survive. In the remote region where refugee camps are located, access to basic resources such as food, water, healthcare and housing are limited. Living conditions are difficult due to the harsh desert climate and scarce natural resources.
Russia’s war in Ukraine and COVID-19 have further driven food prices, including humanitarian aid in the refugee camps. Funds required for food assistance alone doubled compared to the previous year. It jeopardises the stability of the food assistance and led to cuts in food rations.
According to the World Food Programme, malnutrition is increasing among Sahrawi refugee children. In 2022, the global acute malnutrition among children under 5 years old was 10.7%, a worrying increase from 7.6% in 2019. Half of children and women also suffer from anaemia.
The isolated camps offer almost no employment and livelihoods opportunities, making refugees dependent on remittances and humanitarian aid. In this remote location, logistics also play a key role to ensure regular distributions of relief items to the 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. The Sahrawi refugee camps are vulnerable to natural hazards such as flash floods and sandstorms.
How are we helping?
Due to the lack of continued donor support and low media coverage, the Sahrawi refugees’ situation is considered a ‘forgotten humanitarian crisis’.
Nearly 80% of the Sahrawi refugees still rely on humanitarian assistance for their minimum daily food intake. Advocacy is key to raising the profile of the crisis and attracting additional funding.
The EU is one of the leading donors in this crisis. In 2022, the EU committed €11 million in humanitarian funding to tackle the most pressing issues, such as increasing malnutrition among Sahrawi refugee children and women and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EU addresses the main needs in the camps through food assistance and nutrition care, provision of clean water, sanitation, health care, and education.
EU humanitarian partners have devised a multi-year strategy to improve and extend the water network. Its implementation is gradually reducing the dependency on water trucking, which was costly and unsustainable.
The EU humanitarian aid also provides essential medicines that cover 80% of the health needs of the population in the camps.
The EU is working to improve the education sector. We have invested in infrastructure and sanitary facilities in schools. Our priority now is to scale up the quality of education by investing in better qualifications for teachers.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, EU partner organisations have adapted their actions to minimise its impact on humanitarian operations and protect beneficiaries and staff. In 2020, the EU allocated nearly €500,000 to reinforce emergency services in the local hospitals and install handwashing stations.
In addition, in 2021, the EU provided €1 million to support the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the Sahrawi camps.
During the summer of 2021 and 2022, wildfires struck several regions of the country, fuelled by extreme weather events and most likely aggravated by climate change.
To tackle these fires in 2021, the EU (i) triggered the Copernicus Emergency Management Service for satellite imagery, (ii) offered firefighting planes and (iii) provided €80,000 for the Algerian Red Crescent through the International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent for relief aid.
Last updated: 12/01/2023
Facts & figures
5 refugee camps in the south-west part of the Algerian Sahara Desert.
EU humanitarian funding:
€11 million in 2022
€279 million since 1993