Despite the European Commission's promises to end the diversion of humanitarian aid sent to the Tindouf camps in Algeria, new evidence has emerged to confirm that this large-scale mismanagement continues even in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This evidence was exposed by the European information website "EUToday" on the basis of investigations it carried out on the ground and through damning testimonies.
EUToday spoke with Mohamed Chérif Larossi Ahmed Salem, a former Polisario activist and an experienced human rights campaigner. Having personally witnessed EU food aid on sale in markets in Mauritania, he explained how this vitally needed food aid is diverted to build personal fortunes, and to maintain a military arsenal that includes heavy tanks and surface to air missiles.
He also explained that "Algeria itself is complicit in the fraud, as it taxes the aid," the source said, adding that "this was confirmed in a hearing in the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee in July 2015."
Polisario has reported the presence of 155,000 to 170,000 people in the area of Tindouf, but independent organisations and neutral observers estimate that, in their view, the real number to be somewhere around 70,000 - 90,000 people, it said, noting that "the resultant surplus in supplies, funded by hard-pressed European taxpayers, represents Polisario’s profit margin."
"As well as being a source of funding, the residents of the Tindouf camps also serve another purpose: males perform military service in the armed forces of the SADR, and many are required to perform work in return for the food aid that should be theirs by right," EUToday pointed out.
“Regarding the recent diversion of European humanitarian aid that is sold in Mauritania supported with clear and sharp photos of the European flag as well as eyewitness reports, I can confirm that this is not the first time. I followed with attention and amazement as a consultant to the European Parliament the outcry aroused in parliament by the OLAF report which was made public in 2015," Bjorn Hultin, an expert at the European Parliament, told EUToday.
“This report clearly states that the Polisario leaders systematically and methodically adopt misappropriation of humanitarian aid and accumulate colossal fortunes and they all have luxury real estate in Spain. It is tragic to be enriched on the back of the suffering of the sequestered populations,” EUToday underlined.
The report explains the process by which the misappropriations take place: EU food aid arrives in the Algerian port of Oran, where the sorting between 'what should arrive and what can be diverted' takes place.
OLAF reported, for example, that Canadian wheat intended for the camps is replaced by lower quality grain, and the higher quality wheat is sold. Products for raising poultry are also sold rather than being provided to the refugees.
On June 1st of this year, Bulgarian Member of the European Parliament Ilhan Kyuchyuk formally raised the issue with the European Commission. In a written question he touches on the issue of the number of people in the camps.
Previously, in December 2015 an international group of MEPs, which included German MEP Ingbor Grassle, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control, wrote to Federica Mogherini, then High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, drawing her attention to allegations that the diversion and sale of aid was being used to raise funds for terrorist activities, the source said.