Concern over malnutrition among long-term refugees from Western Sahara have sparked two assessment missions to their camps in western Algeria by humanitarian partners, the first of which embarks tomorrow, the United Nations refugee agency announced today.
Staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) will accompany representatives of donor countries and their partners from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on a three-day mission to the camps of Sahrawi people, starting tomorrow.
“The aim is to see first-hand the situation in the sites and to assess the overall conditions of the refugees,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said in Geneva, noting that in the last survey conducted in 2008, 61 per cent of the children and 66 per cent of pregnant women in the camps were suffering from anaemia.
Later this month, nutritionists from UNHCR and WFP will visit the camps to assess the current nutritional status of the most vulnerable refugees and to evaluate the current programmes and practices.
The mission will also decide on whether to include additional foodstuffs with high nutritional value in the food assistance, specifically targeted to children, and pregnant and lactating women.
As a result of the last survey conducted in 2008 by Médecins du Monde (MDM) and WFP in coordination with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency already provides supplementary food in addition to the 125,000 general food rations distributed by WFP, it said.
WFP has also added supplementary and school feeding programmes to its operation, distributing fortified, blended foods to malnourished children, pregnant women and lactating mothers and is working to diversify its basic food basket.
In the last five years, however, donor funding has been erratic and in 2008, UNHCR only received 39 per cent of its budget, and both it and WFP still need additional funding for 2009.
Sahrawi refugees started arriving in Algeria in the mid-seventies. UNHCR has been providing assistance to this group since the influx into the Tindouf area in 1975-76 while WFP has been providing food assistance since 1986.
Tomorrow’s mission will include ambassadors and diplomats from more than 19 countries, including Brazil, France, Indonesia, Italy, Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Nigeria and the United States, as well as representatives of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).
Participants will visit two of four refugee camps and will meet with beneficiaries, refugee leaders and Algerian authorities, according to UNHCR. The refugees have been living in four desolate camps in south-west Algeria since the mid-seventies, when a dispute arose between Morocco and the Frente Polisario over the status of Western Sahara.
Since 1991, the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been tasked with monitoring the ceasefire between the two parties and organizing a long-stalled referendum on self-determination.