“You cannot imagine how many letters I received from Sahrawis” who complained about their living conditions in the Tindouf camps amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Rabat – Sahrawi activist Khalid Zeroual addressed recently a letter to the president of Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, condemning the malnutrition and water shortage challenges facing Sahrawis in the Tindouf camps during the COVID-19 crisis.
Zeroual, who lives in Sweden, drew attention to the allegedly critical situation of Sahrawis. The desert community has issued complaints about malnutrition and drought in the camps since the domestic outbreak of COVID-19.
Pro-Polisario news outlets quoted the letter, which said that the situation in the camps, which Zeroual claimed was already bad, worsened after authorities imposed a Tindouf lockdown.
Zeroual said that “although the water is life, access to it has become nearly impossible” for many Sahrawis.
The pro-Polisario activist also addressed reports of food and water shortages. Zeroual said the food aid that Sahrawis received before the pandemic hit is not sufficient to meet the population’s needs.
The letter calls on the Algerian president to intervene and provide support.
Zeroual, who is not the first to complain about malnutrition in the camps where more than 90,000 people live, also released a video to respond to criticism from pro-Polisario members in Tindouf and abroad.
The number of Sahrawis mentioned is the estimation of the UNHCR. Algeria and the Polisario Front have expressed obstinate refusal to allow a census of the camps’ population.
In the video, Zeroual explains that he did not send the letter to speak on the behalf of anyone else.
He said that before writing the letter, he asked if anyone in the camps would like him to address particular issues facing the region.
“You cannot imagine how many letters I received,” the activist said.
Zeroual added that before sending the letter, he held phone calls with Algerian authorities who asked him to address his letter to the country’s president.
Algeria’s responsibility in the Western Sahara
Algeria has long supported the Polisario Front’s claims for Western Sahara’s independence. Despite the alleged critical situation of the Sahrawis and the country’s pledges to assist the desert population,, Algeria is unwilling to engage in the UN-led political process to end the conflict.
The Algerian government participated in round-table discussions held at the initiative of former UN special envoy Horst Kohler.
Algeria, however, refuses its role as a main party to the conflict and claims status as an observer.
UN Security Council Resolution 2494 of October 2019 references Algeria five times: Three times in the preamble and twice in operative paragraphs.
The resolution’s text refers to the necessity for Algeria to assume responsibility in the conflict, and for the country to engage in the political process as a main party rather than as an observer.
Many UN-led human rights meetings, in Geneva and elsewhere, have focused on the situation of Sahrawis and the Tindouf camps, but the UN has not strongly intervened.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has continuously addressed malnutrition challenges in the camps.
In October 2019, the UN chief issued his annual report on the situation in Western Sahara, highlighting the same crisis again.
In the fifth section, paragraph 63, Guterres said that malnutrition is one of the biggest concerns, along with the prevalence of anemia.
UN organizations operating in the camps “continued to work closely together on the treatment and prevention of anemia, stunting, and malnutrition among young children, girls, pregnant and lactating women,” he reported.
The UN recognized but failed to address the poor camp conditions, resulting in the proliferation of diseases such as anemia, especially among pregnant women and children.
The issue also results from alleged corruption. Several reports have exposed continuous alleged embezzlement of humanitarian aid sent to Sahrawis in the camps, involving the Polisario Front and Algeria.
In 2018, pro-Polisario news outlet Futuro Sahara reported that Sahrawis were surprised to find popular aid products on display in Algerian grocery stores.