Mission to assess food situation in Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria

Briefing Notes, 23 January 2007

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 23 January 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Today, nutrition and food management specialists from UNHCR and WFP will start a 12-day mission to the Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria to assess the dire food situation and the nutritional status of the refugee camps in view of a recent disruption in the food pipeline. The specialists will be accompanied by NGO partners and representatives of donor countries. and spend twelve days in the five refugee camps, where they will meet with the beneficiaries, refugee leaders and the Algerian authorities and undertake an in-depth nutritional survey, assess the warehousing and distribution mechanisms.

Food assessment missions are undertaken every two years. In the last one , in 2005, UNHCR and WFP concluded that there was malnutrition in the camps. As a result, remedial measures were taken by the various agencies and NGOs. The amount of fresh food, such as fruit and vegetables, wheat soya supplementary food and high-energy biscuits, was increased. In the camps, the creation of vegetable gardens has been promoted. Water distribution was improved by establishing water pipes, as opposed to the original trucking of water.

While UNHCR and WFP have been focusing on the 90,000 most vulnerable beneficiaries, the camp populations have received additional aid from bilateral donors and NGOs. But the aid for the Sahrawi refugees has not been enough and UNHCR and WFP and partners have on several occasions called for additional funding for this forgotten caseload. In February 2006, following devastating floods in the region, UNHCR, the Algerian government and the international community responded quickly with a $1 million emergency programme. But repeated calls for additional funding, as late as October last year, have yielded little, leading at the end of 2006 to a temporary break in the food pipeline and a deterioration in the nutrition situation in the camps. In the meantime, the food pipeline has been partially restored.

Sahrawi refugees started arriving in Algeria in the mid-seventies. UNHCR and WFP have been providing assistance to this group since the commencement of the influx of Sahrawi refugees into the Tindouf area in 1975-76.

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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.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

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

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Humanitarian organizations in South Sudan are working to deliver emergency assistance to some of the tens of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in Jonglei state. Most of those uprooted have fled into the bush or have walked for days to reach villages away from the fighting. Others have journeyed even greater distances to find sanctuary in the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Gaining access to those affected in an insecure and isolated area has been a significant challenge for aid workers. Since mid-July, an airlift has been providing food supplies to families living in two previously inaccessible villages and where humanitarian agencies have established temporary bases. As part of the "cluster approach" to humanitarian emergencies, which brings together partners working in the same response sector, UNHCR is leading the protection cluster to ensure the needs of vulnerable individuals among the displaced are addressed.

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