Since 1975, Sahrawi refugees have endured displacement in the Algerian Sahara, the majority of whom remain dependent on humanitarian aid to sustain their basic needs, including access to food, water, and shelter. The camps are situated in a particularly hostile environment, with temperatures reaching up to 50 degrees Celsius in summer and almost zero degrees Celsius in winter, permanent drought, sandstorms, and rare but devastating floods. As a result, refugees suffer from persistent levels of food insecurity and opportunity for self-reliance is extremely limited.
Oxfam in Algeria
Oxfam has been active in the Sahrawi refugee camps since 1975, and over the years our work has evolved from emergency assistance to the multifaceted provision of humanitarian aid, resilience programming 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 and availability of fresh produce in order to ensure nutritional diversity in their diet. We carry out the distribution of fresh vegetables in the summer months, as well as the distribution of gluten-free flour to the disproportionately large celiac population within the camps. 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.
Our work in agroecological farming includes the piloting of several water-efficient, climate-smart, innovative irrigation techniques to improve access of refugee families to fresh produce. This includes 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. We are also currently exploring the use of this technology to produce harvests for human consumption.
Providing access to water
Sahrawi refugees receive on average 12 litres per person per day – well below the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) recommended target of 20 litres a day. Oxfam is helping to improve household water quality through providing replacement family water storage tanks and new hosepipe to facilitate the transfer of water, as well as capacity-strengthening actions for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector. In 2020 we also helped map and design a water extension network that provides a guide for actors in the refugee camps to substantially extend and expand the water resources available in the refugee camps.
Supporting youth and community engagement
Oxfam is endeavoring to increase the opportunities for Sahrawi youth to become actors of change in their communities. Many young women and men in the camps have a high level of education, and yet socio-economic opportunities are incredibly limited. This situation, combined with the lack of progress towards a political resolution to the conflict and the harsh living conditions endured by generations of refugees, has fueled an increasing frustration among young refugees.
In 2018, we launched a youth-led community engagement project to support Sahrawi refugees to identify their greatest needs and provide them with an opportunity to address them. Through training in a range of topics, including communication, fund-raising, project management, and advocacy, the project aims to encourage civic participation among youth, 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.
We are also working in cooperation with other partners to provide additional 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 our programming within the Sahrawi refugee camps, Oxfam continues to raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis that the Sahrawi refugees are facing, and advocate for both a more dignified life for refugees and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. In this regard, Oxfam calls for the improved quantity and quality of humanitarian aid and advocates for the achievement of a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, in accordance with international law.
Desert(ed): stories from the Sahara
For 45 years, Oxfam in Algeria has been present in the Sahrawi refugee camps, located in the hostile African Sahara, providing humanitarian assistance, resilience, and capacity building activities for the refugee population. We share the stories of the women, men, girls, and boys that we work with, the challenges they face, and their efforts to build a better future.