Who are the Sahrawi

This is Asma.  She was born in Smara refugee camp.  So was her mother Fatimatu.  Her grandparents were born in Western Sahara, a disputed territory in North West Africa. They fled to the Sahrawi  refugee camps in 1976 during the war between Morocco and the Polisario when Western Sahara stopped being a Spanish colony.

They have lived in Smara for 44 years waiting for  a referendum to decide who should govern their homeland. 

There are around 180,000 people living in the camps in a very inhospitable corner of the Sahara desert.  They run the camps  on a very democratic basis and have set up schools and hospitals.  They have one of the highest literacy rates in Africa and many people have university degrees.

The Sahrawi people are well known for their resourcefulness and determination but for food and water they are dependent on handouts from the World Food Programme.  With the current refugee crisis across the world the amount of food each family receives is getting less.  One of the main things missing from the diet is fresh vegetables which we all need to stay healthy.    Because of a lack of fresh food 44% of the women and 39% of the children suffer from anaemia. (UNHCR)

The Sahrawi refugee camps are a collection of camps located in the Sahara desert in the Tindouf Province, Algeria, set up in 1975-76 for Sahrawi refugees fleeing from Moroccan forces, who advanced through Western Sahara during the Western Sahara War. With most of the original refugees still living in the camps, the situation is among the most protracted in the world. The population of the camps is currently approximately 180 000, this includes many of the original refugees who fled their homes almost 45 years ago along with thousands more who were born in the camps.
The limited opportunities for self-reliance in the harsh desert environment have forced the refugees to rely on international humanitarian assistance for their survival. However, in the past 7 to 8 years this humanitarian assistance is slowly diminishing. Recent crises have brought huge cuts in humanitarian aid and the WFP stated in November 2016 that it was facing a shortfall of 9 million euro for the first six months of 2017. The president of Media Luna Sahrawi, Buhubeini Yahia, said: “This lack of funding is going to reduce the food basket of the Saharan refugees by 50%.” The WFP would only be able to distribute food to 90,000 people when it previously did so for the 180,000 who live in the Tindouf camps.

Michael Palin's Visit

In the early 2000s Michael Palin visited the Smara camp, while travelling across the Sahara for his BBC documentary. He experienced the generous hospitality of the Sahrawi people and shone a spotlight onto the situation in the camps. Sadly things have not changed very much since then.