The majority of Sahrawi people (from the disputed Western Sahara territory) fled to neighbouring Algeria, where today they continue to live in refugee camps. Credit: Eric de Mildt/Oxfam

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Since 1975 Algeria has hosted a large proportion of the Sahrawi population in refugee camps near the city of Tindouf, the majority of whom are dependent on humanitarian aid to sustain basic needs such as access to food, water, and shelter. The camps are situated in a particularly hostile environment, with temperatures reaching up to 55 degrees Celsius in July and August, frequent sandstorms, constant drought and rare but devastating torrential rains. As a result, refugees suffer from persistent levels of food insecurity and malnutrition and have limited opportunities for self-reliance.

Oxfam in Algeria

The Sahrawi refugee camps have existed in southwest Algeria for over 40 years, with almost 3 generations of refugees born and raised within them. Oxfam has been active in the camps since 1975, and over the years, our work has evolved from emergency aid to the multifaceted provision of humanitarian support, resilience and capacity building activities.

Improving Food Security and Self-Reliance

Oxfam in Algeria aims to ensure that the Sahrawi refugee population sees its food security strengthened through improved access to, availability, and use of fresh produce in order to ensure diversity in their diet.

Oxfam supports the distribution of fresh vegetables over the summer months, as well as the distribution of gluten-free flour to the celiac population. The complementary development of small-scale agroecological farming has allowed for increased training and sensitization of Sahrawi families on local food production and contributes to a reduction in the structural dependence of vulnerable refugees.

Oxfam is also piloting the development of hydroponic agriculture in the region to provide green fodder for livestock. In only seven days, fresh green barley fodder can be produced from seeds using minimal quantities of water, no soil, and no fertilizer, resulting in improved access, quality, and quantity of animal products for the benefit of the Sahrawi population. Oxfam is also currently exploring the use of this technology to produce harvests for human consumption.

Supporting Youth and Community Engagement

Oxfam in Algeria is endeavoring to increase the opportunities for Sahrawi youth to become actors of change in their communities and relieve the suffering of everyday life. Many young women and men in the camps have a high level of education, and yet they have limited opportunities for employment or participation in society. This situation, combined with the lack of advancement of the political process and the harsh living conditions, has fueled increasing frustration among young refugees. 

In 2018, Oxfam launched a youth-led community engagement project to support Sahrawi refugees to identify their greatest needs and provide them with an opportunity to address these. Through training in a range of topics, including communication, fund-raising, project management, and teamwork, the project aims to increase self-confidence among youth within the refugee camps and encourage civic participation. The project allows participants to be active, rather than passive, beneficiaries and demonstrates the power they have to bring about positive change within their communities by encouraging diverse and inclusive participation from across all sectors of Sahrawi society.

Oxfam is also working in cooperation with other partners to fight youth frustration through the provision of alternative opportunities for community engagement and active citizenship. Project activities include the facilitation of international exchange sessions with youth activists and civil society members, the promotion of dialogue with local institutions and leaders, participation in international fora and events, and the promotion of local entrepreneurship, among others.

Advocating  for an equitable and sustainable political solution

In addition to its programming within the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, Oxfam continues to raise awareness about the severe humanitarian situation that the Sahrawi refugees are facing in the camps and to advocate for a more dignified life for refugees as well as a resolution of the conflict in order to address the root causes of the crisis.   In this regard, Oxfam calls for the improved quantity and quality of humanitarian aid and advocates for the achievement of a fair and sustainable political solution to the conflict, in accordance with international law.