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UN Food Chief: The international community must not forget to Aid Saharan Refugees

The international community must not forget the plight of tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria who are still entirely dependent on external aid to survive, three decades after fleeing a territorial dispute with Morocco over Western Sahara, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris said today.

"The donor community has provided critical assistance over the years and that support needs to continue," Mr. Morris declared after visiting refugee camps in the desert near Tindouf and meeting with President Mohamed Abdelaziz of the Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic as well as the camps' Council of Elders.

"For more than 20 years, these people have had to endure a harsh desert environment, social isolation and a chronic lack of economic opportunities. WFP and its partners are doing their utmost to ensure that the most needy refugees receive the quantity and quality of assistance they desperately need," he added.

The refugees arrived in Algeria in 1975 after fleeing the dispute between Morocco, which claims the former Spanish colony, and the Frente POLISARIO independence movement. In October 2006, the UN Security Council reaffirmed that a just and lasting solution was still under negotiation. But until a solution is reached, the refugees will continue to rely on the humanitarian community.

Mr. Morris stressed that the difficult living situation, in which many households cannot afford to buy nutritious food, is having an obvious impact on their health. A joint UN study last year concluded that almost two thirds of the women suffer from anaemia and one out of every three children under five suffers from chronic malnutrition.

"Refugees are the responsibility of the international community not of one single country," he said. "The Algerian Government has generously given lodgings and financial support but more international help is needed."

Since 1986, WFP has been assisting the Algerian Government in meeting basic nutritional needs of the refugees. To date, WFP aid totals over $157 million and includes the current operation valued at $43 million.

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