Infections in the camps might deteriorate the already precarious living conditions of Sahrawis, who face food and water insecurity and malnutrition.
Rabat – The Polisario Front has recognized the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Tindouf camps, western Algeria, where thousands of Sahrawis face dire living conditions.
Jira Bulahi Bad, the self-styled minister of health in Tindouf, reported four COVID-19 infections in the camps.
Bad broke the news on Twitter on Thursday.
“After much effort and preventive measures to protect our people, today unfortunately we have to announce the first 4 cases by #COVID_19 in the #Sahrawi refugee camps,” Bad wrote in Spanish.
Tras mucho esfuerzo y medidas preventivas para proteger a nuestro pueblo, hoy lamentablemente tenemos que anunciar los primeros 4 casos por #Covid_19 en los Campos de refugiados #saharauis. Nuestra situación de vulnerabilidad nos obliga a redoblar esfuerzos para seguir caminando pic.twitter.com/WPPjnve1yE
— Jira Bulahi Bad (@JiraBad) July 23, 2020
The “minister” said the situation “of vulnerability forces us to redouble efforts.”
Pro-Polisario news outlet Futuro Sahara said that two of the reported cases do not suffer any symptoms, while one has mild symptoms.
One of the cases is in a critical condition, the news outlet said.
Located in the westernmost province of Algeria, the Tindouf camps host approximately 90,000 Sahrawis, according to the estimation of the UNHCR.
Algeria and the Polisario Front, continue to block an official census of the camps.
The Tindouf population are not satisfied with the living conditions in the camps. Groups of Sahrawis have appeared in videos repeatedly denouncing their conditions amid a lack of administrative action to resolve their situation.
Protests to condemn the situation in the camps are usually met with suppression from Polisario “authorities,” who have arrested several activists for denouncing human violations in the region.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in his 2019 report on the situation in Western Sahara, informed the Security Council of the unpleasant living conditions in the Tindouf camps.
In the report, Guterres said malnutrition is one of the biggest health concerns, along with the prevalence of anemia.
He said that UN organizations operating in the camps, including UNHCR, “continued to work closely together on the treatment and prevention of anemia, stunting, and malnutrition among young children, girls, pregnant and [breastfeeding] women.”
The same complaint appeared in Guterres’ 2018 report, recalling the frustration among Sahrawis in light of the “lack of press in the process” for Western Sahara and the “persistent difficulties, such as malnutrition, brought by the steady reduction in humanitarian aid.”
Polisario’s embezzlement of humanitarian aid intended for Sahrawis has been a major issue in Tindouf for years but is heightened amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The prospects for a potentially devastating COVID-19 outbreak in Tindouf is a concern for the European Parliament.
In June, Italian politician Anna Bonfrisco called on the European Committee to investigate Algeria’s hand in human rights violations in the camps where it has given the Polisario Front total authority.
“The uncontrolled spread of the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a potential health threat, which also jeopardizes the lives of humanitarian workers,” she warned.