These 40 men and women live in refugee camps in south-western Algeria, in the heart of the Sahara desert. Far from everything, in an incredibly hostile environment with no flora or fauna and subjected to extreme temperatures, they only survive thanks to humanitarian aid. These camps have already been there for 40 years.
During those 40 years, children have been born and adults have grown up, married and had children of their own, never having known anything other than life as a refugee. Why are they there? Because in 1975 they fled the violence raging across their homeland, the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara. It’s is an entrenched and little-known conflict,
A decolonization gone bad
When Spain withdrew from its Western Sahara colony in 1975, it handed over control to Morocco and Mauritania. The division and the expanding control of Morocco and Mauritania over the Territory triggered the armed conflict with the Frente POLISARIO, who represented the interests of the indigenous populations of Western Sahara.
The Frente POLISARIO proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976. Morocco and the SADR were left face-to-face when Mauritania withdrew from the Territory. Although the two parties accepted mediation from the United Nations in 1991, up to the present date the conflict remains unresolved.
5 refugee camps in the desert
The first Sahrawi families began to flee their homes and coastal villages near the south-west of Algeria in October 1975 with the hope of returning home one day. Since 1976 the Algerian government has welcomed the Sahrawi people in 5 refugee camps: Ausserd, Boujdour, Dakhla, Laâyoune et Smara.
The climate in this region is extremely harsh: with temperatures up to 55°C, sand storms, permanent drought and very rare but devastating torrential rains... The largely isolated camps offer almost no employment opportunities, creating a dependency of the refugees on remittances and international aid.
The same food basket for 40 years
Access to basic resources such as food, water, healthcare, housing and education is very limited. Thanks to humanitarian aid, the population has benefited from basic nutritional rations, albeit not very varied ones, which ensure the refugees’ food supply. This monotonous diet over the last 40 years has had an impact on the refugees’ health (anaemia, growth deficiencies,…).
As recently as 2015, the Global Food Program (GFP) had to reduce the quantity of food it distributes, lacking the funds even to maintain previous levels of food aid. In 2016 (and for how much longer?) refugees will have to feed themselves with 10 types of food: oil, sugar, lentils, rice, soy, wheat, flour, carrots, onions and potatoes.
A forgotten humanitarian crisis
The Sahrawi refugee situation is considered a forgotten crisis: a severe, protracted humanitarian crisis situation where affected populations are receiving no or insufficient international aid and where there is no political commitment to solve the crisis, due in part to a lack of media interest.
However, the refugees themselves continue to hope for a solution at long last, after 40 years of waiting. Don't let them be forgotten. The Sahrawi youth have the right to a future and only a political resolution to of the conflict will offer provide them the possibility of living fully.