The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said today it is mounting an emergency operation to assist around 50,000 refugees in Algeria, after their homes and shelters in three refugee camps were washed away by torrential rains.
In a statement from Algeria, UNHCR said it was planning an airlift of around 12,000 tents, 7,000 kitchen sets, 60,000 blankets and other living essentials to the camps, which house Sahrawi refugees who fled Western Sahara in 1975.
“We are very concerned about the effect the flood damage will have on the Sahrawi refugees who have already lived under very difficult circumstances for so long,” said Radhouane Nouicer, UNHCR’s Geneva-based deputy director for the region.
“We will join hands with all concerned agencies to address this situation without delay.”
On Saturday, a joint rapid assessment mission by UNHCR, the World Food Programme and local aid agencies visited two of the three affected camps in the Tindouf region, in the west of the country. In Awserd and Smara where the overwhelming majority of refugees live in mud-brick houses and some 25 percent live in tents, the structural damage was found to be enormous with 50 percent of the houses completely destroyed.
The UNHCR said it could not reach the third affected camp but a local aid agency managed to get there on Friday, before the last heavy downpour that night, and even at that stage they reported 25-30 percent of the mud-brick houses were completely destroyed, with at least 70 percent of families’ food stocks ruined.
The refugee camps in the Tindouf area host refugees who fled Western Sahara in the mid-1970s during the conflict over the right to govern the Territory after Spain withdrew from the region. UNHCR is presently supporting 90,000 of the most vulnerable refugees in five camps.