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UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Western Sahara


UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Western Sahara

1 December 1998

Basic Facts

What we do

Promote and facilitate the safe, dignified voluntary repatriation and reintegration of some 120,000 Western Saharan refugees from Algeria, Mauritania, and other countries under the United Nations Settlement Plan. The repatriation and initial reintegration activities can be broken down into three phases: 1) preparatory activities, 2) transportation into the territory and to the final destination, and 3) settlement and reintegration/rehabilitation. Requirements presented below.

Who we help

An estimated 120,000 people: 105,000 from Algeria, 10,000 from Mauritania and 5,000 from other countries. The Identification Commission (IDC) of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) is in the final stages of determining exactly who the prospective beneficiaries of this project will be. Only refugees eligible to participate in the Referendum, and their immediate family members, qualify for repatriation. UNHCR is also assisting some 80,000 vulnerable refugees in the four camps in the Tindouf area of Algeria.

Our requirements

To be determined

Our offices

In Western Sahara Territory: Laayoune, Dakhla (to be opened), Smara (to be opened), Tifarity (to be opened), Agwanit (to be opened).

Algeria: Algiers, Tindouf.

Mauritania: Nouakchott, Zouerate, Nouadibouh.

Morocco: Casablanca. (Honorary Representative)


Following the outbreak of hostilities between Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberación de la Sagu a el-Hamra y de Ro de Oro (POLISARIO) in 1975, more than 100,000 Western Saharans fled the Territory. Most found refuge in Western Algeria, where they were accommodated in four camps in the Tindouf area. Others arrived in Mauritania and other countries, where they settled among the local population. Ever since the Saharan refugees arrived in Algeria, UNHCR has provided basic assistance to 80,000 vulnerable refugees in the camps; while in Mauritania and other countries, refugees received support on an individual basis, according to need.

Solution for Thousands of Refugees

The 1997 breakthrough in the years-long deadlock over the implementation of the United Nations Settlement Plan provided an opportunity for thousands of Saharan refugees to find a durable solution to their exile. By deciding to repatriate voluntarily under this programme, refugees express their acceptance of the terms of the United Nations Settlement Plan, in particular their wish to repatriate regardless of the outcome of the Referendum. In accordance with its principles, UNHCR will repatriate Western Saharan refugees who wish to do so, enabling them to participate in the voting and to find a durable solution to their plight as refugees.

The current mandate of MINURSO was extended until December 1998 under Security Council resolution 1204 (1998), to allow for the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General to meet with the parties concerned and assess the situation. The subsequent report by the Secretary-General to the Council is expected to include a revised time frame for the full implementation of the United Nations Settlement Plan.

The success of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation operation is dependent upon the progress made on the various pending political issues and the agreement of the parties to give the United Nations Settlement Plan a chance to succeed. UNHCR is carefully monitoring all developments and hopes that the efforts of the Personal Envoy will result in the resolution of outstanding issues.

Preparing for the Return

UNHCR has established its presence in Laayoune in the Western Sahara Territory, and Zouerate and Nouadibouh in northern Mauritania. Staffing has been reinforced at the Tindouf office in Algeria and additional administrative support is provided by the existing UNHCR offices in Algiers, Casablanca, and Nouakchott. The initial staff and equipment for the preparatory phase has been identified and deployed. During the next phase, UNHCR will open offices and deploy staff and equipment to the remaining four locations in the Territory: Smara, Dakhla, Tifarity and Agwanit.


Pre-registration exercises to ascertain the potential returnees' willingness to repatriate and to determine their final destinations in the Territory began on 9 February 1998 in Zouerate and Nouadibouh, Mauritania, and on 19 March 1998 in the Tindouf refugee camps. These exercises were completed in Mauritania on 30 August 1998 with 23,000 refugees pre-registered. In Tindouf, UNHCR completed pre-registration in two of the four camps with 31,000 refugees pre-registered. Pre-registration exercises are expected to be completed by the end of October 1998. Along with the pre-registration, UNHCR is conducting a needs assessment of the refugee group, focusing particularly on identifying the special needs of women, children and the vulnerable population. Pre-registration will also generate more information on final destinations and other data needed for planning phases two and three.

Mine-Awareness Campaign

A mine-awareness campaign is conducted by the NGO Norwegian Peoples' Aid in the refugee camps in Tindouf and in Mauritania, under a project funded by the Norwegian government. While UNHCR is responsible for mine awareness, MINURSO is responsible for de-mining repatriation routes, way stations and transit sites. Based on the information provided by UNHCR to the Swedish and Pakistani de-mining teams of MINURSO, de-mining work has already started along the proposed return routes from Tindouf to the Territory.

Mass-Information Campaign

A mass-information campaign to familiarize the refugees with the repatriation operation was initiated in January 1998, when UNHCR staff from Headquarters went on mission to Morocco, the Western Sahara Territory and Algeria. The campaign will be an on-going activity to help build confidence among the refugees and facilitate the registration process. The campaign will also include a series of refugee representative visits to the Territory and from the Territory to the camps, an exchange of personal mail, the identification of refugees' family members in the Territory, and the establishment of radio/telephone contacts between the refugees and their relatives in the Territory. UNHCR will launch the mass-information campaign as a cross-border activity both in Laayoune and Tindouf as soon as possible, as discussed with the relevant authorities. It will also inform the refugees about UNHCR's preparatory work, including its pre-registration exercises, mandate, and role within the United Nations Settlement Plan and the Houston accords. This information is shared with the refugees during pre-registration in the camps which, in itself, is an important confidence-building measure.

Transport and Logistics

UNHCR is reviewing its plan of action, especially for the transport and logistics sector; conducting air and road reconnaissance activities; and reviewing the proposed repatriation routes in order to assess conditions, examine alternative routes (in the event of mined or otherwise-inaccessible areas), and identify way stations.

In conjunction with the pre-registration of refugees, UNHCR is conducting a needs assessment in the camps aimed at updating available information on the refugees' personal effects, health status, and other special requirements that may affect the transportation plan.

Water-Development Programme

Oxfam/UK is working as UNHCR's implementing partner for water development in Tindouf and the transit sites. Oxfam/UK conducted a geophysical survey in the Territory, east of the Berm, and a report is being finalized. Additional studies, using satellite imagery, will support a project that will include exploratory drilling in the transit sites in the Territory. Technical experts from the Australian agency RedR (Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief) are assisting UNHCR in using and interpreting the satellite imagery.


Shelter and Other Infrastructures

Plans include the construction of five reception centres, each with its corresponding family tents, cooking facilities, wash blocks, health posts, administrative premises, electrical system and storage facilities. UNHCR is negotiating with Moroccan authorities to identify and assign a number of viable sites in and around the major towns in Laayoune, Smara and Dakhla, where returnees may settle temporarily or permanently. Additional sites have been identified near Tifarity and Agwanit for the same purposes. Several way stations along the main repatriation routes will be constructed and/or upgraded to receive the passing convoys and provide basic facilities so the population can rest, eat, wash and re-energize. Relief supplies, and logistical and other equipment will be positioned at the appropriate locations. Temporary storage facilities will be also erected on these sites.

The Swiss Disaster Relief (SDR) agency is working as UNHCR's implementing partner for infrastructure development in Tindouf and in the team sites for UNHCR staff accommodations. UNHCR is upgrading its Tindouf office to accommodate more staff and is constructing a residential compound near the refugee camps. Meetings with MINURSO and the Division of Peace-keeping Operations personnel in Laayoune and New York helped determine construction needs and/or the possibility of UNHCR staff sharing basic accommodations at existing MINURSO team sites in the Territory. All construction is scheduled to be completed during the course of 1998. During 1999, UNHCR hopes to begin the planning and construction of transit sites in the Territory and conduct an urban survey of the Territory to gather information for planning reintegration and rehabilitation activities.

Domestic Needs

Some refugee families will be given domestic cooking fuel (butagas), a kitchen set and blankets upon arrival at the transit centres. Each family will also receive two 10-litre water containers for the road. All reception/transit centres will be provided with a fully-equipped communal kitchen.

Health and Sanitation

Before departure, vulnerable refugees, including those physically and mentally disabled, will be identified. Each will be provided with a form to facilitate repatriation and follow-up. Reinforcement of vaccinations and mass health-education campaigns will be conducted in the camps, particularly on water management and hygiene. Epidemiological information will be gathered to determine the level and type of services to be planned for the reception and repatriation. Saharan refugees with expertise in the health sector will be identified and trained specifically for the repatriation operation. Medical screening will be conducted immediately before the actual departure.

In each reception site, a health centre will be constructed and fully stocked and equipped before the repatriation. Several vehicles, including ambulances, will be purchased for supporting the return movement and the health-related activities in the reception centres. Health posts and hospital tents will be constructed and equipped along the main repatriation routes and in the transit centres. The necessary personnel, estimated at 8 doctors, 20 nurses, 5 medical assistants, 7 drivers, 20 cooks and 50 community-health workers, will be hired. In order to attend to the daily needs of 20,000 refugees (an average of 4,000 per reception/transit centre), a total of 800 latrines will have to be constructed in the five reception centres. Lime and cleaning tools will be distributed to each family upon arrival, and a programme of waste removal will be implemented in each site. Five vehicles will be assigned to coordinate and conduct these sanitation activities.


The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Western Sahara has the overall responsibility for organizing and conducting the Referendum. He is the Head of MINURSO, which is composed of security and military personnel and civilians. UNHCR coordinates closely with MINURSO to resolve problems that may arise about security, customs and/or immigration.

UNHCR cooperates with the Algerian, Moroccan, Mauritanian governments and the Frente POLISARIO on all issues pertaining to the repatriation plan. The agency also intends to conclude and exchange agreements governing their respective roles in the repatriation operation.

Close coordination has already been established with the World Food Programme (WFP), which will be responsible for providing refugees with a basic food package for at least the first nine months following their return. UNHCR has also begun discussions with other United Nations agencies, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, about a hand-over strategy for the reintegration phase of the project once UNHCR's responsibilities for the return are concluded. (UNHCR's monitoring role, covered by its mandate, would, however, continue for a longer period.)


Since the starting date of the repatriation has not yet been finalized, no requirements are presented. UNHCR is ready to begin repatriation activities as soon as circumstances permit. At that time, an updated financial assessment will be issued. Meanwhile, UNHCR will continue using the US$ 4 million, which represents the estimated carry-over from previous years, for its preparatory activities.