- A new study documents serious human rights and humanitarian crisis resulting from more than three decades of warehousing of Sahrawi refugees confined to desert camps near Tindouf, in southwestern Algeria.
The report says the legal rights and freedoms of the Sahrawi refugees have been "routinely" violated, humanitarian aid hijacked, families split, and futures denied with no end in sight to serve a failed political agenda.
The study, published by the Inter-University Center for Legal Studies located at the International Law Institute, finds that both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and relief agencies established to protect refugee rights have ignored the situation in the Algerian camps and perpetuated the abuse of the refugees' rights under international law.
"The International Law Institute believes the situation of the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, and their rights under international law, is in urgent need of consideration by the rest of the world," said Don Wallace, Jr., Chairman, International Law Institute in a preface to the report. "It is our hope this report will prompt concerted action among all nations and stakeholders involved, together with the UN and other international organizations, to resolve the decades-old situation of the Sahrawi refugees, and improve their circumstances through instruments of international law."
The publication of the study follows only weeks after news reports citing the UN's refugee chief saying tens of thousands of refugees had been "forgotten" in remote desert camps in Algeria.
"I recognise that not enough has been done and that the international community should wake up... we have to work more and better," acknowledged Antonio Guterres on 10 September, making the first visit by a UNHCR head to the camps in Tindouf, Algeria since 1976. "These refugees are living for tens of years in precarious conditions."
Key findings and recommendations by the report covers issues such as refugee rights under international law as well as respect for Sahrawi rights.
The reports also calls for conducting of a census of the camp population and documenting the refugees, while also measures should be taken to establish an intimidation-free voluntary repatriation programme in the camps, and to ensure a permanent international NGO presence in the camps to monitor distribution of humanitarian aid.
"The freedom and rights of the Sahrawi refugees have been denied and their futures stolen," said Robert M. Holley, Executive Director, Moroccan American Center for Policy, which authored the report in cooperation with the IUCLS. "Thirty years is long enough. We need to open the camps and help these people take back their future. We should help refugees rebuild their lives, not make being a refugee a way of life."
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