The aid agencies of both EU and the UN have made cuts in their budgets. That strikes the already much-afflicted people in the Saharawi Refugee Camps near Tindouf in Algeria very hard.
By Søren Lund Nielsen
“We used to get all the medicaments that we needed. Now we only get about half of it.”
The words are by Fadil Mokhtar Ahnia, Director of the National Hospital in Rabuni in the Saharawi Refugee Camps near Tindouf, a region that since the mid 70’s has served as base for the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi nationalist organization fighting for Western Sahara’s independence. The Polisario Front is headquartered in self-administered refugee camps south of the city, which has been filled up as Moroccan and Mauritanian forces conquered Western Sahara in 1975.He finds a 10 page long document with the required medicaments, the most urgent ones marked with a cross made by a pen.
The financial support from ECHO (European Commission’s department for overseas humanitarian aid and civil protection) on humanitarian aid has been cut from 5.5 to 4 million Euros over the last three years and on the same time several Spanish regions and municipalities have decided to reduce or end their cooperation aid for projects in Western Sahara.
“It worries us a lot that due to cuts in Spain the budget of several organizations has been reduced a lot, which we have tried to compensate, but we cannot deal with it all”, says Director General of ECHO, Claus Haugaard Sørensen.
”But it is correct that we have conducted a reallocation of money. We have big fights within the organization when the money is being allocated. It is really difficult.”
Target is far from being reached
According to a report from the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) made from last year, there is a high level of malnutrition and anaemia amongst the refugees. 30 % of children under age of 5 suffer from malnutrition, 53 % suffer from anaemia, and 56 % of pregnant women suffer from anaemia, which increases to 67 % amongst breastfeeding women.
Despite this, the budget of the UNHCR is nothing near that.The report stated that the minimum amount of money required to cover the basic needs in the different sectors for 2012 is US$ 32 million, but the budgeted aid by the UNHCR for this year is US$ 8.7 million.
“It wasn’t our choice. We don’t have the sufficient budget at all; we hardly got even half of what we need for this year. We have to take into account the economical crisis that effects especially the European donors are facing and the needs in the region with new emergencies. We definitely need more funding”, says the head of UNHCR’s sub delegation in Tindouf, Zainab Sheikh-Ali.
Saharawi Red Crescent has sent out a press release to “sound the alarm” about the effects for Saharawi refugees of the global economic crisis based upon the same numbers that the UNHCR has published.
“If you look on minimum human needs they are not at all reached in the camps. The problem may not be seen that much on the people here, cause they are very proud and do not want to show their suffering, but the test results shows the realities”, says Buhobeini Yahia, the President of Saharawi Red Crescent.
Claus Haugaard Sørensen of ECHO acknowledges the need for more funding, and indicates that ECHO has asked for a 10 percentage increase in their budget, in the ongoing negotiations on the EU budget. A portion of this amount, if granted, will go to the Refugee Camps of the Saharawis. A population that has had to be patient in a crisis that scored 3/3, which is the most severe level, in the Vulnerability and Crisis Index of Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO) and has been declared a forgotten crisis for 2012.
The stalemate negotiations
”The situation is stalemate”, says Boukhari Ahmed, Polisario Representative to UN, who believes that there are still room for a diplomatic negations in a peaceful way between Morocco and Western Sahara in order to find a solution for the area. But from Moroccan side the negotiation process is seen upon as almost dead.
“Morocco has given a lot of proposals on how this can be solved, but Polisario stands firmly upon their only wish of a referendum. It is very difficult to negotiate when they have nothing to negotiate with”, says the Moroccan ambassador in Denmark, Raja Ghannam.
Only 82 countries in the world have accepted the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a state, and of these none are European countries. No countries have given their acceptance of the Moroccan occupation, but according to Raja Ghannam, there is nothing wrong with being in a country that historically belonged to you. The International Court of Justice in Haag took notice of this in 1975, when it was brought for them, but they concluded that this past could not change the fact, that the people of Western Sahara had the right to national self-determination.
”Both the area of Western Sahara and even Tindouf used to be Moroccan. Polisario is just a movement, it is not for the whole population”, says Raja Ghannam, referring to the many Saharawis that do not support Polisario and who live in Morocco and other parts of the world. According to her Polisario is manipulating with the information they are giving to the international society regarding how many people that actually need help.
“Polisario claims that 160.000 live in the camps, but actually it is nothing but 45.000. It’s all misinformation. They are making up the numbers to gain more support”, she says.
Kurt Mosgaard is a former general of MINURSO, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, and he is aware of the dispute of the number of inhabitants, but do not find the exact figures being relevant.
“This is only according to how much food they need in the camps. They are not fed; there are concrete numbers of children that are malnourished. Because of this dispute of numbers, the humanitarian agencies have committed themselves to 90.000 who need support in the camps.“
Through his work in the area and former ongoing dialogue with both sides, Kurt Mosgaard has a great knowledge and understanding about the conflict. He criticizes in particular the fact that an area that has not yet been clarified is used for tourism, fishery agreements with the EU and international business operations.
“The more the area is allowed to run as normal area, the longer the conflict will continue, because there is not a “need” to get it solved, says the former Minurso General.
“But it is a question of pride and struggle about who is right here, rather than it is a question of resources. If the conflict must be solved, then the world’s great powers, mostly U.S. and France must in cooperation with other countries find out how it is done. Currently one man, the UN special envoy Christopher Ross, has been send with the task to find a solution that both sides will find political acceptable. That means, find out yourself, because we cannot make a decision.”