USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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Sahrawi Refugees: Warehoused and Forgotten in the Sahara Desert

Sahrawi refugees are among the longest warehoused refugee groups in the world. In a situation lasting over 30 years, more than 90,000 refugees wait in four remote refugee camps -- El Aaiun, Awserd, Smara, and Dakhla -- in the desolate Sahara desert in southwest Algeria.

The international community has all but forgotten these men, women, and children who fled their homes in the mid-'70s because of fighting between the Moroccan military and the Polisario Front, a rebel group who seeks independence for the Western Sahara.  The refugees remain trapped to this day in refugee camps in a remote part of the Sahara often referred to as "The Devil's Garden."

Sahrawi refugees live in mud-brick huts and canvas tents, which offer little protection from frequent sand storms and scorching temperatures of above 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. They subsist on mostly rice, lentils, and bread and many suffer from chronic malnutrition. Not allowed to leave the camps to seek work, they have no choice but to rely on rations supplied by the international community.

Not only have the parties involved failed to resolve their dispute in order to get these innocent civilians out of the camps and grant them the opportunity to rebuild their lives; they have neglected to protect the refugees' basic rights as human beings.  Reports from the camps near Tindouf show evidence of slavery, imprisonment of women for adultery, and restricted freedom of movement.

Lavinia Limón, USCRI President, explained: "The fact is, we have all failed these human beings. An entire generation has already grown up and known nothing other than a refugee camp and a second generation will soon face the same fate. We need to act today to get these refugees out of these camps and back to living productive lives."

"Algeria should shut these camps down and the international community should offer transportation and resources to the refugees so they can relocate to more hospitable locations where they can be self-reliant while waiting for resolution of the plight."

USCRI continues to lead a growing coalition of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations in the campaign to end the human "warehousing" of refugees -- a practice that deprives millions of refugees worldwide of the rights to be gainfully employed, run businesses, own property, move about freely, and choose their place of residence.

Take a first-hand look at the meager living conditions of the Sahrawi refugees by viewing the slide show above.

Learn more about refugee warehousing and what you can do to help give refugees hope >>

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