On July 12, the House Appropriations Committee approved a draft of the Fiscal Year 2017 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that calls for a census of the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria and allows American funds to Morocco to be used in the Western Sahara region.
Section 7041 of the draft bill includes two clauses under the section entitled “Morocco.” The first mandates that American funds to Morocco “shall also be made available for assistance for any region or territory administered by Morocco, including the Western Sahara.” The second instructs the Secretary of State to “take all practicable steps to secure the cooperation of the Government of Algeria for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to conduct a census of the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria.”
Amid accusations that the Polisario and Algeria are inflating the number of refugees in the camp to receive and embezzle excess aid, European authorities have been calling for an official census of the camps to determine the appropriate amount of aid to provide.
In early 2015 the European Union Anti-Fraud committee published a report indicating that the humanitarian aid destined to the Tindouf camps had been diverted for four decades by the Polisario and Algeria.
However, Algerian officials have spoken out against the bill. Madjid Bougerra, the Algerian ambassador to the United States, condemned the bill’s language in a letter to Representative Betty McCallum on June 24.
Claiming that the appropriations bill was not the place to request a census, Ambassador Bougerra wrote: “I respectfully request that the House Appropriations Committee remove, from this draft, the provision concerning Algeria inasmuch as it is not at all party to an an assistance issue involving the US and Morocco only.”
The full House of Representatives will vote on the bill after its summer recess. If approved, the House will combine its bill with the Senate’s version. The Senate also authorizes US aid to the Western Sahara, but, unlike the House, places the Western Sahara in its own category separate from Moroccan foreign aid.
If both bills are approved, the House and the Senate will compare their versions and reconcile any differences between the two before sending the legislation to the President to sign.