Tindouf flood relief: Governments step forward

Briefing Notes, 3 March 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 3 March 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We're pleased to report that several governments have come forward in response to our urgent appeals for additional air support to fly about 150 tonnes of relief items from our stockpiles in Jordan to some 60,000 Sahrawi refugees left homeless by severe flooding in three camps in western Algeria.

The French government offered us two C-130 sorties, which over the weekend transported some 20 tonnes of relief items to Oran, west of Algiers. Today, a Turkish C-130 loaded with 5,100 blankets is expected to take off from Amman to Oran airport. Another Turkish C-130 is being loaded right now in Amman with blankets, ready to take off tomorrow to the same destination. In addition, the United States confirmed to us yesterday that it will provide two An-124 sorties on 6 and 8 March which will carry the remaining 110 tonnes of tents, mattresses, plastic sheets and blankets to the flood-stricken refugee camps.

Thanks to the French flights and earlier ones by Italian and Portuguese planes, we have so far delivered 693 family tents; 500 large plastic sheets; 600 mattresses and 9,750 jerry cans. Most of the tents have already been distributed and more are on the way. By the middle of next week, we hope to have an additional 707 tents, 43,000 blankets, 2,500 plastic sheets, 9,400 mattresses, and several tonnes of soap and sanitary napkin kits on the ground.

This assistance is in addition to support already provided by the Algerians and the Spanish. This week, the Algerian government trucked in 26 loads of relief items, in addition to 4,000 tents and other items already delivered. Last Sunday, 600 tents provided by the NGO, Norwegian Church Aid, were flown in by the Russian military. UNHCR provided all logistical support on the ground and is assisting with the distribution.

Three of five Sahrawi refugee sites around Tindouf were severely damaged by heavy rains and flooding 9-11 February. More than half of the houses in Awserd, Smara and Laayoune camps were destroyed by the floodwaters. Many others suffered severe damage. Clinics, schools and other camp facilities were also destroyed. We have now provided tents as temporary alternatives until these facilities can be rebuilt. Sahrawi refugees began arriving in Algeria in 1976 after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara and fighting broke out over its control. Most of the Sahrawi refugees have been living for more than 30 years in the desert regions of western Algeria, totally dependent on outside assistance. UNHCR is currently supporting 90,000 of the most vulnerable refugees.

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Confidence Building Measures 2009/2010 Western Sahara

Information brochure about UNHCR's Confidence Building Measures programme aimed at addressing the effects of prolonged separation between the Saharan refugees in the camps near Tindouf, Algeria and their families in Western Sahara.

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Despite considerable dangers, migrants seeking a better future and refugees fleeing war and persecution continue to board flimsy boats and set off across the high seas. One of the main routes into Europe runs from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands.

Before 2006, most irregular migrants taking this route used small vessels called pateras, which can carry up to 20 people. They left mostly from Morocco and the Western Sahara on the half-day journey. The pateras have to a large extent been replaced by boats which carry up to 150 people and take three weeks to reach the Canaries from ports in West Africa.

Although only a small proportion of the almost 32,000 people who arrived in the Canary Islands in 2006 applied for asylum, the number has gone up. More than 500 people applied for asylum in 2007, compared with 359 the year before. This came at a time when the overall number of arrivals by sea went down by 75 percent during 2007.

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Western Sahara Family Visits

Emotions are running high in the Sahara desert as families split for nearly three decades by conflict over sovereignty of the Western Sahara Territory are being briefly reunited by a UNHCR family visit scheme.

Living in five windswept and isolated camps around Tindouf in south-western Algeria for the last 28 years, the refugees have been almost totally cut off from their relatives in the Territory. So when the UN refugee agency launched its five-day family visit scheme in March this year, there were tears of joy as well as apprehension at the prospect of reunion.

The visit scheme is proving extremely popular, with more than 800 people already having visited their relatives and another 18,000 signed up to go. In addition to the family visit scheme, the UN refugee agency has opened telephone centres in some of the camps, creating another channel through which long-lost family members can make contact.

Photos taken in June 2004.

Western Sahara Family Visits

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural GatheringPlay video

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural Gathering

People from Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and from Western Sahara Territory meet for a cultural seminar in the Azores Islands as part of a confidence building measures programme.