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UN Agencies In Algeria Urge Sustained Assistance For Sahrawi Refugees

ALGIERS – To mark World Refugee Day, the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) organized a Ramadan iftar (meal served at sunset) at the National Foundation Centre for the Promotion of Youth and Sport Initiatives. Refugees participated, alongside government representatives, diplomats and partners in order to demonstrate that they are ordinary people living through extraordinary circumstances. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s fund (UNICEF) also attended the event, at which UNHCR urged the international community to respond to recent funding cuts.

All three UN agencies emphasized the plight of Sahrawi refugees living near the town of Tindouf (south western Algeria), as the refugee crisis enters its 40th year. The steep decrease in funding to what has been described as the world’s most forgotten crisis is affecting an already volatile situation, with frustration mounting among young people about any immediate prospects of a political settlement to the issue of the Western Sahara.

“World Refugee Day is the perfect occasion to highlight the situation of refugees from Western Sahara living in Algeria and to urge the international community for continued support,” said UNHCR Representative in Algeria, Hamdi Bukhari. “Attention to this crisis has largely decreased, as it is overshadowed by an unprecedented number of emergencies around the world. Decreases in funding will translate into reduced services, and mean the people will continue to suffer.” UNHCR is also dealing with an urban refugee caseload, the majority of whom are Syrians who continue to arrive in Algeria.

UN agencies are struggling to meet the extreme humanitarian needs of the Sahrawi refugees, with the water and food sectors especially affected. Refugees only receive 18 litres of water per day, just above the 15 recommended litres in emergency cases. In January, WFP had to reduce the number of items in the food basket, due to a severe lack of resources. Reducing the ration meant the funding available could be extended slightly, allowing monthly distributions to continue. WFP will be forced to reduce the food basket further - from July. Despite such measures there is no funding to ensure full rations beyond September for people who are totally dependent on external support.

“The timing of a halt in food assistance could not come at a worse time,” said Romain Sirois, WFP Representative in Algeria. “It will jeopardize recent nutritional improvements and may trigger social instability, since food assistance is regarded as essential in this protracted refugee crisis.”

Refugees from Western Sahara live in an isolated and economically vulnerable corner of southwest Algeria, where the climate and living conditions are harsh. In this environment, opportunities for self-reliance are limited and the refugees remain heavily dependent on external humanitarian assistance for their survival.

“These refugees have shown an extraordinary perseverance in facing adversity,” said Thomas Davin, UNICEF Representative in Algeria. “UN agencies working at the Sahrawi camps will continue to advocate to bring attention back to this underfunded and neglected crisis,” he added.

UN assistance to refugees from Western Sahara is an important component of a multi-donor, multi-faceted humanitarian relief effort in support of the refugees. UNHCR and WFP have been providing basic food and essential non-food assistance (health, water, sanitation, education and housing) to the refugees since 1986. UNICEF is also present at the camps and supports vaccination campaigns and educational activities. All UN assistance in Algeria is carried out and monitored in collaboration with national and international organizations to make sure the assistance reaches the people for whom it is intended.

The Sahrawi crisis is UNHCR’s oldest and most protracted operation which constitutes the second most lengthy refugee situation worldwide.

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For more information please contact:
Maria Gallar, WFP/Algiers, , Mob. +213 660811407
Russell Fraser, UNHCR/Tindouf, Mob. +213 661 27 88 76