Western Sahara: Appeal launched to assist flood relief in refugee camps

Photo: Bachir Mohamed Lahsen via Facebook.

The Australia Western Sahara Association has launched an appeal for funds, in conjunction with APHEDA — Union Aid Abroad, to assist relief work in the Western Sahara refugee camps where week-long torrential rains have devastated homes, hospitals and schools and destroyed food stores.

The Saharawi refugees have been living for 40 years in a harsh desert environment with dust storms and extreme temperatures, since Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975. Since 1992 the Saharawi have been waiting for a referendum on self-determination promised by the United Nations.

Now unprecedented flooding is adding to their desperation. The loss of food stores is particularly serious as the refugees rely on foreign aid.

“Never before have the Saharawi refugee camps been hit by a natural disaster of this magnitude,” said Kamal Fadel, representative of Western Sahara in Australia. “Help is urgently needed to prevent a humanitarian disaster. We hope that Australian individuals, organisations and unions will give generously in a gesture of good will to assist my people who have lost everything.”

The flood damage has been huge, with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimating that at least 25,000 Saharawi refugees are affected. Mud brick homes and tents have been destroyed, and more than 75% of infrastructure and essential services are gone.

Initial assessments of the devastation have identified an urgent need for tents, plastic sheeting and blankets, food and medicine. Flood water must also be removed and infrastructure rebuilt to avoid disease, contamination of water sources and buildings collapsing.

An early assessment by the Saharawi Red Crescent found that hundreds of mud-brick homes have been destroyed or damaged in the refugee camps. Those living in traditional Saharawi tents were spared the worst of the devastation, but only a minority of families possess such tents. Other infrastructure damaged or destroyed includes dispensaries, hospitals, schools, shops and livestock sheds.

“The Saharawi people have suffered dispossession and dislocation for 40 years,” said Ged Kearney, ACTU President. “The floods this month heap hardship on pain. Please support the APHEDA appeal.”

[Tax deductible donations can be made online or by calling 1800 888 674. AWSA will arrange with APHEDA to send the money to the Saharawi Red Crescent.]

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