Parties must return to negotiating table and work to resolve 40-year-old conflict
Humanitarian and development organization Oxfam today expressed its deep concern that recent events could exacerbate Western Sahara tensions and put the region on the brink of armed conflict. These developments include the expulsion from Western Sahara of 73 civilian peacekeepers and the closure of the Dakhla liaison office to the Western Sahara peacekeeping mission.
Oxfam calls on governments to reaffirm the role and peacekeeping mandate of the United Nations in Western Sahara and to encourage all parties to urgently return to the negotiating table. Oxfam echoes the UN’s call for a just and lasting political resolution acceptable to all parties, including the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
Since the onset of the conflict in 1975, many Sahrawi refugees have lived in refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria. Oxfam has provided humanitarian assistance in these camps for the past 40 years.
“Abandoning negotiation and the UN peacekeeping process increases the risk of violence and needlessly prolongs the conflict,” said Soazic Dupuy, head of Oxfam’s work in the camps. “Four decades- nearly three generations - is far too long to expect anyone to live as a refugee. Restarting negotiations is urgent and essential for regional stability, and is the best way to avoid any escalation of the conflict,” Dupuy said.
Conditions in Sahrawi camps are extremely difficult, especially after devastating floods at the end of 2015. Despite great need, international humanitarian funding for Sahrawi refugees has dropped more than 30% since 2012. With negotiations now in jeopardy, and UN peacekeepers on their way out of the region, the international community must quickly escalate its diplomatic efforts to push for a long-overdue resolution to the conflict in order to avoid further deterioration of the humanitarian crisis.
“Sahrawi youth know nothing other than life as refugees. They deserve a negotiated peace process and the opportunity to live a just and dignified life,” Dupuy said.