The deprived inhabitants of the Tindouf camps continue to serve as “political pawns” who are “exploited to attract humanitarian aid,” argued the Moroccan deputy in Geneva.
Rabat – Algeria, by blocking a census of the Tindouf camps and backing the Polisario Front, bears “full responsibility” for the diversion of humanitarian aid in the camps, said the Moroccan delegation during a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) committee meeting on Wednesday.
For months, the refugee camps in Tindouf, western Algeria, have been under the control of the Polisario Front, the militant adversaries to Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara and self-proclaimed representatives of the Sahrawi people.
In the Tindouf camps, where residents live in dire conditions with poor access to food, water, and medicine, humanitarian aid diversion for the benefit of separatist Polisario leaders and their Algerian foremen is well-documented and widely known.
The deputy permanent representative at Morocco’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, Abdellah Boutadghart, raised the issue at the 78th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme of the UNHCR on July 8.
Morocco has long called for the UNHCR to conduct a census of the camps’ population to reduce the risks of fraud and embezzlement, but Algeria, “in defiance of all international resolutions,” has obstructed such efforts.
Algeria’s “deliberate confusion” regarding the population of the Tindouf camps is “the key to the diversion of humanitarian aid,” Boutadghart said.
“The host country is complicit in this fraud since it imposes taxes on this aid of up to 10%, in contradiction with humanitarian norms and practices,” he added.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Algeria has intensified its calls for humanitarian aid in the Tindouf camps, where it harbors Polisario leaders and weapons.
As the overseer of the camps, the Polisario Front embezzles this vital aid “to build personal fortunes and to maintain a military arsenal of heavy tanks and surface-to-air missiles,” Boutadghart argued.
The deprived inhabitants of the Tindouf camps continue to serve as “political pawns” who are “exploited to attract humanitarian aid,” he lamented.
Returning to the ‘motherland’
“Thousands of people among the population held against its will in the Tindouf camps in Algeria have managed to return to the motherland, many of whom were high-ranking officials and founders of the [Polisario Front] that controls these camps with an iron fist,” the Moroccan deputy continued.
“They did so not only because they were convinced that the separatist theses were out of date, but also because, unlike the majority of the population in the camps, they found the means to escape from the distress prevailing in the camps.”
Boutadghart explained that those attempting to leave the camps must do so via human smugglers, given the “absence of a voluntary repatriation program, which begins with [a census].”
Escaping from the camps entails “crossing the desert, risking their lives, facing enormous hardship, and risking punishment by separatist militias,” he said.
The deputy called for the lifting of the “blockade” imposed on the camp’s inhabitants to allow them to return to the motherland, Morocco, where they can “live in security and dignity,” particularly in the southern provinces that have blossomed under King Mohammed VI’s development model.
European calls for Algerian accountability
Boutadghart’s statement at the UNHCR committee meeting reflects Morocco’s repeated calls for an end to Polisario’s abuse of power in the camps, calls that NGOs and members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have recently echoed.
The separatist group’s abuses, however, date back several years, even before it secured official control over the camps.
In 2015, a report by the EU’s Anti-Fraud Body (OLAF) exposed large-scale humanitarian aid diversion operations in the Tindouf camps for the benefit of separatist Polisario leaders and their Algerian foremen rather than those in need.
The violations detailed in the report appear to have fallen on deaf ears, evident in the repeated condemnations of Algeria and Polisario’s ongoing criminal dealings.
MEPs Anna Bonfrisco and Ilhan Kyuchyuk recently directed the attention of the European Committee to the issue.
In June, Bonfrisco called for an investigation into Algeria’s responsibility in medical aid diversion in the Tindouf camps, warning that “the uncontrolled spread of the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a potential health threat.”
The Italian politician urged the European Committee to “clarify the responsibility of the host countries towards refugees on their territories, having regard in particular to the provision of basic services, the implementation of a census and freedom of movement.”
Kyuchyuk denounced in April Polisario’s exploitation of the dire situation, questioning why evidence of Polisario’s embezzlement of funds and humanitarian aid and sale of vital medical supplies on the black market continues to go unchecked.
The Bulgarian politician said Polisario’s exploitation of the camps should be clear to all observers, considering the group’s pleas for food aid and ever-growing military arsenal.
“Faced with the refusal of Algeria … to organize a census of the population of the Tindouf camps, despite repeated calls from the UN Security Council, we are entitled to ask the EU to take measures to monitor humanitarian aid sent to these camps and to ensure that European taxpayers’ money is not wasted.”