- The European Commission (EC) has approved of a further euro 10 million humanitarian aid package to assist the estimated 200,000 Sahrawi refugees living in desolate camps in the Algerian part of the Sahara Desert since 1975. Europe, as the refugees' main sponsor, is to provide food supplies, water, health and education to the camps.
According to the EC, the funds are channelled through the Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). Basic food aid is managed by non-governmental organisations and the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), one of ECHO's main operational partners in the region.
For more than 30 years, since the Moroccan occupation, the refugees from Western Sahara have been living in camps near Tindouf in Algeria. They depend entirely on international aid for their survival. The Commission is the largest donor assisting the victims of this long-running crisis and since 1993 has provided aid worth more than euro 128 million.
Some 60 percent of the new aid package is to cover food supplies through a WFP programme. The UN agency provides a food package ensuring a daily intake of 2100 kcal per refugee. The funding also covers fresh food - fruit and vegetables throughout the year, and meat and other products during Ramadan - to ensure that the refugees, women and children in particular, receive a nutritionally balance diet.
The remainder of the funding targets basic services, according to the EC. "In the desert area where the refugees are located, meeting water needs is a major challenge that will continue to be addressed," ECHO noted. Water is supplied in trucks from Algiers.
Health and hygiene were also set as priorities in the programme, with general support for the health system including the purchase of medicines, actions for handicapped people and the distribution of hygiene products, especially for women. "In long-term refugee situations such as this, education is also a basic need that will be covered," ECHO said.
The EC makes annual decisions on humanitarian aid for the Sahrawi refugees. In February this year, however, an additional emergency aid package of euro 900,000 was approved, in response to the flash floods that brought devastation to the refugees camps. The new humanitarian aid package also was set to fund "further shelter activities" in connection with the floods.
"The new support represents the continuing expression of European solidarity with the victims of this 'forgotten crisis'," the EC said in a statement today. No European country has recognised Morocco's occupation and territorial claims of Western Sahara and a majority of EU member states support the Sahrawis' quest for an independent state.
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