Refugee camp

Refugee camp

Isolation and lack of prospects

For more than 40 years the Sahrawi refugees have been waiting in camps in the desert. The situation is particularly difficult for the young people - now in the third generation. Isolation and a lack of prospects are causing them problems. The harsh climatic conditions bring extreme heat and flooding.

Young woman in the foreground, camp in the background.
Life in the camp is very difficult, especially for young people. The isolation and lack of development opportunities is paralyzing and gruelling.

Some 174,000 people live in the five refugee camps in southwestern Algeria. The Sahrawi people fled there in 1975 to escape the Moroccan occupying forces and the bombing with napalm and phosphorus bombs. Since then, they have been waiting for a solution to the conflict and to be able to return to their country. It is now the third generation growing up in the camps.

Young woman in front of a manually operated sewing machine in the Smara camp.

Hopelessness of youth

Especially for young people the psychological situation is very difficult. Although young Sahrawis have a very high level of education, they are largely condemned to do nothing in the camps. Apart from retail trade, there is hardly any economic activity. The frustration of the young people is all the greater because many of them have even gone abroad to study. Their hopes of being able to contribute to the development of their country after their return are soon dashed. The gruelling wait for a referendum is crippling. terre des hommes schweiz therefore supports a project for young people in the largest of the camps, in Smara. The youth centre is an important meeting place, especially for young women, where they can come together and exchange ideas. It also offers courses on health issues and women's rights. Twice a week, the young women organize play afternoons for about 1200 children.

Dependence on aid supplies
While Morocco exploits natural resources and exports fruit and vegetables from Western Sahara, the people in the refugee camps are completely dependent on international aid supplies. Moreover, in recent years, these have become less and less as humanitarian aid is shifted to other focal points. There are more and more malnourished children in the camps and a general shortage of supplies is threatening.

Torrential rains have flooded the Sahrawi refugee camps in southern Algeria. Many houses were completely destroyed or are now in danger of collapsing.

Floods and unbearable heat
The refugee camps, with their poor infrastructure and makeshift construction, are associated with great risks for their inhabitants. The camps are at the mercy of weather extremes. This became apparent once again in autumn 2015. When heavy rains fell in the region over several days in October 2015, this led to the worst flood disaster ever experienced by the people in the camps. The houses and tents of 7000 to 11,000 families were completely or partially destroyed. The floods also destroyed infrastructure such as water supply, hospitals, schools and electricity. The other extreme are the hot summer months. Temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees, which is also close to the limit for the Sahrawi people.

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