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Algeria: airlift to flooded Sahrawi camps begins

Algeria: airlift to flooded Sahrawi camps begins, says UN refugee agency

Portuguese and Italian air force planes delivered some 20 tons of tents to western Algeria's Tindouf region over the weekend for the over 50,000 Sahrawi refugees in three camps whose shelters were washed away by torrential rains, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

“In all, we plan to deliver more than 200 tonnes of relief supplies to the camps from our stockpiles elsewhere, so the airlift is crucial and we continue to appeal for additional air and financial support for the operation,” Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR) said today.

“More than 25 flights will be needed to airlift all of the supplies, including more than 2,000 tents, plus tens of thousands of blankets, mattresses, plastic sheets and jerry cans,” she added.

Most of the Sahrawi refugees have been living for more than 30 years in the desert regions of western Algeria, totally dependent on outside assistance. They started arriving in Algeria in 1976 after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara and fighting broke out over control of that Territory.

UNHCR is presently supporting 90,000 of the most vulnerable refugees in five camps in the Tindouf area.

More than half of the houses in Awserd, Smara and Laayoune camps near Tindouf were destroyed by the floodwaters, and 25 per cent were badly damaged. The camp infrastructure also suffered enormous damage, including collapsed community buildings, Ms. Pagonis said.

The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) is providing 500,000 Euros to help supply tents, blankets and sheets to the affected population. Algerian authorities also provided tents and transportation assistance, according to UNHCR.

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