The European Union has decided to “drastically” reduce the humanitarian aid allocated to the Tindouf camps following the release of a report by the European Union’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) documenting “well-organized, year’s long” embezzlement by the Polisario Front of humanitarian aid designated for Sahrawi refugees in the Polisario-run camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
Ingeborg Grassle, a deputy from Germany’s Christian Democratic Party (CDP) and Chairwoman of the Committee on Budgetary Control at the European Parliament, has written a report in which she calls for “reviewing” the 10 million Euros annual aid allocated to the Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps. According to media reports, Grassle urges in her report the European Commission to “adapt its aid to the current needs of the affected population, to end once and for all embezzlement and fraud of humanitarian aid.”
“What the EU believes to do in good faith in favor of the populations in Tindouf have been embezzled,” Grassle said during a meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Control last month, adding that this is a “big scandal”.
The OLAF report conducted between 2003 and 2007 and unearthed recently, slams Algeria and the Polisario Front for embezzling humanitarian aid meant for Sahrawi refugees for years. The report also included the names of the suspected organizers of the theft. According to the investigation cited by Agence France Press (AFP), the diversion of humanitarian aid “begins in the Algerian port of Oran, where the sorting between ‘what should arrive and what can be diverted’ takes place.”
The OLAF report has revealed that the Polisario Front overestimates the number of Sahrawi refugees residing in the camps to facilitate aid embezzlement. “One of the reasons that made these diversions possible is the overestimation of the number of refugees and therefore aid provided,” the report states.
The European Union has been sending humanitarian aid to the camps since 1975 based on Algerian estimates of a population of 150,000 especially that Algeria and the Polisario Front have always declined UN requests to conduct a census in the camps. In 2005, however, OLAF unilaterally reduced the estimates provided by the Algerian authorities to 90,000.
In a helpless attempt to gain support amidst the aid embezzlement scandal, the Polisario Front accused the Moroccan authorities of being responsible for the release of the OLAF report.
The Front’s representative to the European Institutions, Mohamed Sidati, said that the “OLAF report was put forward by the “lobbies” of Morocco in order to blackmail the Sahrawis and pressure them,” adding that he does not understand why the auditing and control of humanitarian aid sent to the Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps is taking place “now”.
The OLAF investigation has found that the refugees receive a good quality food, such as Canadian wheat, but it “is being replaced by a lower quality equivalent and then being sold,” and that “poultry products funded by international aid are not given to refugees. They are sold instead.”