Donor mission to Sahrawi refugee camps

Briefing Notes, 17 March 2009

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 17 March 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Tomorrow, representatives of donor countries and NGO partners, accompanied by UNHCR and WFP staff, will start a three-day mission to the Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria to see first-hand the situation in the sites and to assess the overall conditions of the refugees. The delegation of ambassadors and diplomats from more than 19 countries, including Brazil, France, Indonesia, Italy, Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Nigeria and the United States, as well as representatives of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), will visit two of four refugee camps. They will meet with the beneficiaries, refugee leaders and Algerian authorities.

Later this month, nutritionists from UNHCR and WFP will visit the camps to assess the current nutritional status of the most vulnerable refugees and to evaluate the current programmes and practices. The aim is to improve the nutritional situation of the refugees and reduce anaemia among the most vulnerable. The mission will also decide on whether to include additional commodities with high nutritional value in the food assistance, specifically targeted to children, pregnant and lactating women. It will also consider the acceptability of the new commodities by refugees.

The last survey conducted in 2008 by Médecins du Monde (MDM) and WFP in coordination with UNHCR concluded that there was malnutrition in the camps, with 61 percent of the children and 66 percent of pregnant women suffering from anaemia (iron deficiency). The assessment also showed that 55 percent of all women are anaemic, with a possibility of overall micro-nutrient deficiencies in the entire population. As a result, some remedial measures were taken by various agencies and NGOs. UNHCR provides complementary food commodities in addition to the 125,000 general food rations distributed by WFP. During the month of Ramadan in 2008, UNHCR distributed additional amounts of fresh food, camel meat and dairy products to improve the nutritional status of beneficiaries. In the camps, the creation of vegetable gardens has been promoted. Water distribution was improved through a new pipe system. It was previously trucked.

UNHCR's support also includes water and sanitation projects, extension of water networks, water trucking, health care, and vocational training centres for refugee women and youth.

In response to high rates of anaemia, WFP also has supplementary feeding and school feeding programmes within its operation, distributing fortified, blended foods to malnourished children, pregnant women and lactating mothers and providing a mid-day snack to primary school students.

WFP is also working to diversify the basic food basket, having included barley in 2008 and rice in 2009. Pasta has been distributed for January March 2009 with Italian funding. A complementary project with Spanish funding will allow for the inclusion of gofio (toasted maize meal) as of May 2009. All items are part of the traditional diet for the Western Sahara refugees.

WFP and UNHCR have been working very closely together to highlight the plight of the refugees through joint donor visits and joint assessment missions.

Sahrawi refugees started arriving in Algeria in the mid-seventies. UNHCR has been providing assistance to this group since the influx into the Tindouf area in 1975-76 while WFP has been providing food assistance since 1986.

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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 and Nutrition

UNHCR strives to improve the nutritional status of all the people it serves.

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

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

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.

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

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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