The Sahrawi refugee community is facing its fortieth year of displacement since fleeing from Moroccan forces, who advanced through Western Sahara during the Western Sahara War, in 1975. With up to 165,000 Saharawi refugees remaining in refugee camps in Tindouf, the Saharwi refugee situation is among the most protracted situations globally.
Most of the Sahrawi refugees have remained in the Tindouf province in Western Algeria, in one of the five official refugee camps: Laâyoune, Ausserd, Smara, Boujdour, and Dakhla. The harsh desert environment, paired with a camp-based economy with very limited opportunities for economic self-reliance, forcing many Saharawi refugees to become dependent on international humanitarian assistance for their survival. On the Forgotten Crisis Assessment Index, 2014/2015, The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) put the Saharawi situation at “most severe”.
Lack of jobs, business-start-up loans, and other livelihood and social opportunities in the camps have led to increasing frustration among Sahrawi youth, being a potential feeding ground for social tensions and, in worst case, radicalization. It is against this background that DRC was invited by UNHCR and ECHO to conduct an in-depth Livelihoods and Market Study with the ultimate aim of setting up programming to move Saharawi livelihood strategies in a positive direction.
Since April 2016, the DRC Algeria team has sought to implement relevant, coordinated and effective livelihood support to the Sahrawi youth that utilizes their full potential. DRC intervention will include the provision of life skills training, quick impact projects related to social opportunities for youth, provision of business development training, and distribution of small grants to start up or expand micro, small, or medium enterprises (MSMEs).
Better harnessing the full potential of Sahrawi refugee youth will benefit the whole Sahrawi community, ensuring a more dignified and higher quality life.