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ACAPS Briefing Note: Algeria: Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf (19 January 2022)

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Over 173,000 Sahrawi refugees are estimated to live in five camps in Tindouf province, Algeria, on the border between Mauritania, Morocco, and Western Sahara. Some have been displaced for more than 45 years after fleeing the conflict between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario), Mauritania, and Morocco in 1975 (ICG 25/04/2018). Refugees face harsh desert conditions and rely almost fully on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. The exact number of refugees in the camps is not known, mainly because of political disputes between Morocco and the Sahrawi authorities on the number of eligible voters for the referendum. The figure 173,000 is not used anymore for response planning and the planning figure of 90,000 refugees is considered for humanitarian assistance (OXFAM 08/05/2020; ICG 25/04/2018; UNHCR 28/12/2021). Protracted displacement in harsh desert conditions with little access to livelihoods and services, particularly water, has been driving the humanitarian needs of refugees.

The new clashes in November 2020 further aggravated the humanitarian conditions of Sahrawi refugees. According to camp authorities, the clashes displaced an additional 4,700 Sahrawis from conflict areas near the sand wall between Morocco- and Polisario-controlled territories in Western Sahara to the camps in Tindouf. Humanitarian access has been extremely limited because of COVID-19-related movement restrictions, shortages of staff in humanitarian operations. Political tensions between Algeria, Morocco, and the Polisario have also been hampering humanitarian response and preventing sustainable solutions (KII 15/07/2021; KII 28/07/2021; KII 18/08/2021; KII 02/09/2021).


  • Food insecurity: 30% of Sahrawi refugees are food-insecure, and 58% are at risk of food insecurity. According to the last food security assessment in 2018, 94% of the refugees depended on humanitarian assistance for food.

  • Access to water is a main challenge for Sahrawi refugees, who rely mostly on water trucking provided by humanitarian responders.

  • Education quality is decreasing because of the low incentives and high turnover of teachers, the shortage of educational resources, and very limited opportunities available for refugee children after graduation.

  • Health: the camps need COVID-19 vaccination and awareness-raising. The high turnover of qualified staff caused by low incentives and limited growth opportunities is a challenge.

  • Protection: Feelings of stagnation, desperation, loss the sense of time, and hopelessness have been reported particularly among the Sahrawi youth, leading to a high risk of radicalisation because of conflict, limited opportunities, and an unknown future.

  • Newly displaced: Some of the 4,700 Sahrawi refugees displaced from the conflict areas to Tindouf camps in November–December 2020 still require humanitarian assistance such as shelter, food, and livelihoods.