We compile the latest news about the corona crisis in occupied Western Sahara and in the refugee camps. LATEST: The corona virus has arrived the refugee camps in Algeria.
This article is continously updated.
Status, 24 July:
After an explosive increase in corona cases in the occupied territories end June/beginning July (from 3 to over 600 cases in two weeks only), the number of infected is according to Moroccan government figures said to have decreased during month of July. 23 July, the Saharawi health authorities announced the first four confirmed cases of corona in the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria. The cases are most likely due to contact with Tindouf city, eight kilometers away from the camps. The camps were in lockdown from 18 March to 29 May.
Why the crisis is already hard for the people of Western Sahara? This is why.
The website of the UN operation for a referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, contains for the first time in months no status update on the spread of the corona virus in Western Sahara. The terrtory is the only place in the world that the UN defines as a colony, but with no UN member states reporting as administering power to the UN. This is how the website of the UN operation looked today. The Norwegian Support Committeee does not know why the information is currently not there.
The corona virus has arrived the refugee camps. Saharawi health authorities report four cases, in the camp of Dakhla and Boujdour, as well as in the administrative center Rabouni.
Whereas the corona prevalence was far higher in Spain than generally on the African continent in the beginning of the pandemic, the situation is now reversed. Of 61 immigrants recently arriving Fuerteventura island, Canary Islands, on a rubber dingy, 46 were infected with corona, according to the Spanish news service EFE. The vessel came from El Aaiun in the occupied territory, which experienced an explosive increase end June/beginning of July.
One new case has been reported in the occupied territory, while many have recovered. of the 794 infected, 467 have recovered, while two died, according to figures from the UN operation MINURSO.
This weekend, 600 active corona cases were to be found in the Morocco-controlled part of Western Sahara, according to MINURSO.
The Saharawi online network Nushatta publishes a video illustrating the health standards at the central hospital of El Aaiún in the occupied territories.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees invites the Saharawi refugees to take part in a photo competition on the life under corona crisis.
The task force for corona response in the refugee camps announce that there are still no positive cases have been found in the refugee camps.
Moroccan citizens resident in Morocco can still not return to Morocco from Europe. Morocco is the only country which during the corona crisis has refused its own citizens from returning to their home country. A new video shows a group of Moroccans simming from the Spanish enclave Ceuta over to Morocco.
Traffic between the refugee camps and Tindouf has reopened. The traffic has been closed since 21 March.
“There were no new cases anywhere in Western Sahara yesterday. Four cases remain under medical care and isolation, the individual confirmed during the weekend in Laayoune and the three recently confirmed cases in Dakhla, while the six cases previously reported in Dakhla and Boujdour have now recovered. There have been no new cases in the Tindouf Governorate since 10 May and still no cases to date in the Saharawi refugee camps or in the Territory East of the Berm", the UN operation MINURSO writes.
Saharawi authorities have loosened up on the strict measures in the refugee camps.
22 busses, full of Moroccan settlers, arrived Dakhla after having been at their homes in Morocco since last part of March. Saharawis are frustrated about the risk of corona virus being transmitted from Morocco into the territory.
Follow online video conference about the corona crisis with Saharawi and international NGOs.
EU has reportedly supported Morocco with an additional 157 million Euro for state budget, in view of the corona crisis, according to the Spanish news service EFE. According to EFE, the Moroccan embassy in Brussel has communicated that an additional 300 million Euros are to be transferred later this year. The statement comes one day after the EU announced that it cannot provide further assistance to the Saharawi refugees, for lack of funding.
The corona task force in the refugee camps has issued a new statement. It is now manadatory for Saharawi refugees to carry face masks upon visits to Tindouf city. Particular rules apply for Saharaw students/pupils who return to the camps from their places of education elsewhere in Algeria.
Due to the large global needs, the EU Commission writes that it is “unable to respond to the appeal with additional resources at this stage”. This is written in a letter to Member of EU Parliament Janez Lenarcic.
MINURSO writes in its updates that Tindouf region has seen its first death due to corona, and that all remaining 13 cases have recovered and left the hospital.
The Algerian health personnel at the military hospital is working on shifts. The staff has now been replaced, and the new team is being briefed by the Saharawi health minister.
The MINURSO operation confirms on its website the existence of three new cases of corona in Dakhla, Western Sahara, after previously positive cases have been cured. Saharawis have for a long time expressed concern that Morocco has sent settlers and fisherrmen into the territory.
Saharawis in Dakhla, Western Sahara, protest that Moroccan sailors enter the city. Saharawi activists have lately been posting images showing groups of Saharawis gathered in the traffic in Dakhla, protesting the arrival of more Moroccans into the occupied territory. The same pictures are reproduced by the Moroccan online newspaper Goud.
UNHCR has donated five tank trucks for water distribution in the refugee camps, according to the Twitter account of UNHCR Algeria.
The schools in the refugee camps are to be reopened not sooner than September, according to the Saharawi minister of education, according to the website El Confidencial.
Morocco prolongs the lockdown until 10 June, Reuters wrtites.
While other international borders in Africa are closed, the Saharawi are not in a position to regulate the flow of traffic of Moroccan settles traveling into the occupied part of the non-self-governing territory. Rumours now circulate that Moroccan settlers are now arriving from Morocco into occupied territry on public transport.
The UN Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, is now reporting that all six detected cases in Dakhla and Boujdour in the occupied territory are all now recovered. None of the cases have been reported as fatal.
The minister of health in the refugee camps is interviewed on RASD TV in connection to a visit to the field hospital erected near the refugee camps.
The Moroccan government website www.covidmaroc.ma has now switched the reporting of numbers per region of Morocco into percentage of totality. This leaves it rather impossible to know development of corona in Western Sahara. MINURSO keeps referring on its website to "no new cases since 8 April" i Western Sahara.
The director of health in Tindouf informs that ten persons have been tested for the corona virus at a hospital in Tindouf, and that nine of them have tested positively. All nine are hospitalised, but none in respirator. He furher informs that they have more suspected case, and that more information will follow.
The Saharawi ministry of justice has ordered to close all mosques for Friday prayers. The ban applies in all five refugee camps, according to Polisario's news news service SPS.
Some hundred tonnes of humanitarian aid are now being distributed in the camps, as part fof the montly rations given to the families, Saharawi Red Crescent reports on Facebook.
“Some products are hard to find in the shops, such as eggs or yoghurt. The little that arrives are sold out quickly".
Shop customer Jawala Mohamed, in Dakhla camp, 3 May 2020.
Authorities in Tindouf city are closing more businesses following the arrival of the virus to the city.
The situation in the camps constitute ‘a ticking bomb’, according to the Spanish humantiarian organisation Medicos del Mundo.
“We have taken all possible measures. We have set up local and regional groups, including professionals, with the task to uncover cases and to secure that rules are followed. We go from tent to tent, from family to family, explaining the measures".
Doctor Abderahaman Mohamed Lehbib, leader of the corona task force in the refugee camps 3 May 2020.
“Stay in your homes, stay in your homes!”. The health authorities inform about the curfew - via megaphone. The virus has arrived to the immediate surroundings of the camps.
Algerian authorities report that the region of Tindouf has its first six cases of corona virus. This is worrisome: It is in this region that the Saharawi refugee camps are located, and under normal circumstances there are traffic from Tindouf city to the camps. See also this press conferece 1 May (video, 2 Mb) where Algerian authorities confirm the cases.
Polisario's representative in Spain issues a statement regarding the urgent need for increased humanitarian aid to the refugee camps, in view of the corona situation.
Saharaw Red Crescent publish a letter where it accounts for the need for increased humanitarian aid.
Some restrictions are being made on the corona measures in Algeria, according to Algerian media. There are now openings for taxi services, hair dressers, some shops etc
26 Saharawi associations call for the immediate release of all Saharawi political prisoners in Moroccan jails. The statement comes with a report that includes 230+ pages of recent UN documents relating to the situation of the Saharawi prisoners.
Bizarre development: Now, smugglers charge up to 5000 euros to smuggle people in small boats from Spain to Morocco, according to Spanish media. The smuggling has always been going on in the opposite direction, into Europe.
The Spanish film star Javier Bardem is among the many who have asked for the immediate release of the Saharawi prisoners.
“The Norwegian embassy in Rabat regularly raises the situation for Saharawi human rights defenders in Moroccan jails with the Moroccan authorities and the human rights commission (CNDH). From Norwegian side, we have also expressed concern relating to the prison conditions in view of the corona pandemic", she expressed in an answer to a parliamentary question from Member of Parliament Åsmund Aukrust.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency; United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and five NGO partners urgently need US$ 15 million to respond to the public health needs and immediate humanitarian consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria, WFP writes on its website. The 15-pages long needs assessment can be downloaded here.
"The children are going crazy and are all the time asking what will happen to him. They want their father to come back home. The United Nations must pressure Morocco to release my husband and other peaceful Sahrawi political prisoners without any conditions," the wife of one of the Saharawi political prisoners of the so-called Gdeim Izik group expressed to the newspaper Middle East Eye.
The Algerian newspaper Liberté has published what appears to be a continously updated map of corona cases in the country. The city of Tindouf still records zero cases.
The refugee camps have received its first test kits! The Ministry of health in the camps told in a release today that they have received a long-awaited consignment from the African Union, where the Western Sahara republic is a member state. The package contains test-kits for early diagnostication of corona virus and protetive gear for health workers. The equipment arrived on 21 April to the camps, and was received by the Minister of health and the leadership of the corona task force. Similar equipment is being distributed to all the member states of the AU.
“Today, 22 April 2020, marks 14 days since the last coronavirus case was reported in Western Sahara, which confirms that there has been no local transmission from the six cases previously reported. This is excellent news. Only one of the six remains under medical care, in Dakhla”, MINURSO writes on its websites.
A convoy of humanitarian aid has arrived the refugee camps from Algeria.
Saharawi authorities are sending emergency aid to the Saharawi population living in the parts of Western Sahara that is not under Moroccan occpation. The corona situation has blocked a lot of the regular traffic, and hence, food supplies.
Morocco (and hence also the occupied territories) prolongs the lockdown until 20 May.
68 Moroccan prisoners in the jail of Ouarzazate have tested positive to corona, according to the New York Times.
The Polisario leadership is concerned about the Saharawi population in the occupied parts of Western Sahara in view of the pandemic, wrtites Polisario's own news service SPS.
Polisario's office in Spain has issued a release regarding all Saharawis who wish to travel to the Saharawi refugee camps in Algerie, but who are stuck in Spain due to the corona travel bans. The statment advice people to stay put where they are.
In a televised speech to the Saharwi people today, the secretary general of Polisario hails the efforts made so far to prevent the arrival of the virus to the refugee camps. He explained that there are so far no reported case of corona neither in the camps nor in the part of Western Sahara that is not under Moroccan occupation. Read the entire speech here.
The corona is policis. The well-informed Paris based news service Africa Intelligence writes today that Morocco has broken out of the panafrican AU initiative for corona response on the continent. Instead, Morocco has estabished a regional sub-grup of allied of West African states, where they will put their political and financial capital. The Moroccan break-out follows this month's meeting in the UN Security council, proving Morocco's and South Africa's different views on the occupation. South Africa is one of the most important allies of the Western Sahara people and has taken a leading role in the AU's approach to the pandemic.
The Saharawi ministry of health has sent patrols to the settlements in the part of Western Sahara that is not under occupation, in view of the crisis. PS, the photo in the article is an illustration shot.
The ministry of education in the refugee camps has announced on the national TV station RASD TV that home schooling will be expected via the TV channel.
The Norwegian Support Committee has received images of volunteers in the refugee camps making face masks in a local tailor's workshop. The work is overseen by a Saharawi doctor. The masks are made in three layers. See pictures below or dowload here, here, here, here, here, here.
Also the large Moroccan diaspora in Spain is naturally affected by the Spanish lockdown, Moroccan newspaper LesEco writes.
Untiil today two Saharawis are said to have died from the virus in Spain, in addition to the two in France. The total number of deceased Saharawi has thus reached four.
The Moroccan government website Covidmaroc.ma has now removed the information about how positively infected are distributed on region level in ‘Morocco’. This means that it is no longer possible to fiollow on that site the daily development of patients in Western Sahara. The Google search it blow is from 14 April, but the search hit is now empty. The website of the UN mission to Western Sahara, MINURSO, explains that there are no new cases in Western Sahara in addition to the previously reported six, and no cases have been reported neither in the camps nor in Tindouf city.
It is challenging to make any kid not run around outdoors these days. That includes the refugee children. The Saharawi health department contiues its wonderfully creative information campaigns. Follow them on the departement's Facebook page. New grafic published today:
More than 100 Saharawis who are supposedly stuck on the border between Mauritania and Western Sahara are reported now being taken 'home’ to the refugee camps. The group has struggled to get overland to the camps due to lack of transport. The returnees are being placed in quaranteen upon return.
The kings of Morocco and Spain have had a telefone meeeting regarding the crisis, according to a tweet from the Spanish palace.
“We hope we will not get any cases here, because the truth is, we dont have anything here", Saharawi doctor Abdala Banani Saaid told Euronews. See pictures from his hospital. He told that there are 600 pairs of single use gloves and 2000 face masks in the camps - for a population of around 180-200.000 refugees.
For the third time, a Saharawi died from the virus. The new case has reportedly taken place in Paris. Previously, two Saharawis died in Paris and Madrid.
The UN peace keeping operation in Western Sahara, MINURSO, has seemingly started with daily report about corona in Western Sahara. On 8 April, it posted the following on its website: "Two new cases were reported in Dakhla yesterday 08 April, bringing the total number of officially confirmed cases in Western Sahara to six. These are the only cases in MINURSO’s area of operations. There are still no confirmed cases in the rest of Western Sahara, Tindouf city or the Saharawi refugee camps." The clarification is useful: Morocco's government corona website operate with an administrative division of ‘Morocco’ that fails to draw the correct border between Western Sahara and Morocco. MINURSO's clarification about 'area of operations' only apply to the internationally recognised Western Sahara and the refugee camps.
Bad news for the 4000 Saharawi refugee children who had been looking forward to spend the warm summer in the cooler countries of southern Europe: The programme has been confirmed cancelled for 2020. The programe has been going on for decades and is of large humanitarian and political importance for the Saharawis.
Polisario's secretary-general Brahim Ghali has sent a letter to he UN secretary-general about the need for immediate release of Saharawi political prisoners from Moroccan jails, according to the Algerian newspaper El Watan.
Morocco had hoped for a deiced relationship with the Gulf states. The old alliance took a beating last year, and with a government visit to the region in February, Morocco had hoped to secure further funding to its state government. However, the corona outbreak has prevented this from happening, a Moroccan newspaper wrote.
The ministry of health in the refugee camps writes on its Facebook pages that the suspected corona patient has tested negative. Still no positive cases are uncovered in the camps.
Local authorities have made a video (9MB) directed towards kids about how to wash the hands.
The news service AFP has fact checked a claim that Morocco is the safest country in view of the corona crisis. The allegation originated from a manipulated screenshot from a TV channel, now circulating among Moroccans internet users.
Former laureate of the Rafto award, Sidi Mohammed Daddach, expresses in a video on Twitter his solidarity with the Spanish and Italian peoples, in view of the crisis in the countries.
The local health department in the refugee camps is suspecting the first case of corona. The patient originated from the camp of Boujdour. This is communicated by the local ministry of health in a release.
There are rumours of two corona cases in the city of Boujdour in occupied Western Sahara, according to leading human rights activists in the occupied territories. The cases are reflected in the number communicated via the Moroccan government website CovidMaroc for the ‘region’ of Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra, which saw an increase from 2 to 4 confirmed cases.
A 56 year old Saharawi father of two, living in i Paris, is said to have pased away due to corona.
The Polisario delegation to Spain expresses that a final decision regarding the so-called 'Vacaciones en Paz' programme for 2020 has still not been made. Through the programme, thousands of refugee children travel to Spain during the summer season. It had already apparently been communicated to Spanish news service EFE that the project for 2020 is cancelled. The programme has been going on for decades.
Tindouf is one of nine Algerian regions still without cass of corona, according to the Algerian government.
Occupied Western Sahara might have had its first two corona cases. Accoding to the Moroccan governmet website CovidMaroc, two cases were reported in the administrative region Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra, which primarily is located in the occupied territories, but that also extends in to southern Morocco.
The Saharawi social media group 'Saharawi Voice' and other Saharawi civil society these days publish declarations of solidarity with the Spanish people. “We express ourselves based on our experiences. We have lived in a sort of quaranteen for 45 years, and we still do”, one of the organisers told.
The corona task force in the refugee camps has issued a new statement clarifying that still no positive corona case has been identified. The task force recommend the population to avoid moving around, avoid family visits and practice strict hygiene.
The Moroccan website Goud publishes a video of a patient en pasient som forteller om de vanskelige forholdene på innsiden av sykehuset i Marrakech.
The UN High Commissionner for Refugees has given four ambulances to the health department in the refugee camps. See pictures on the Facebook page of Saharawi Red Crescent.
Polisario's secretary-general Ghali visited the central hospital in the refugee camps, a saharawi website wrote. It is not clear if the socially undistanced illustration image is from the same occasion.
A six year old Saharawi refugee boy made a drawing of life under lockdown.
Spain's minister of foreign affairs stated in a press conference that Spanish authorities together with the European Commission is working to assist North African countries and Palestine, highlighting Morocco, Tunisia, Algerie, Libya, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine. The minister mentions nothing of Western Sahara, where the Spanish government still has a legal responsibility of decolonisation.
Saharawi refugees send declarations of support to the severely affected Spanish people.
The Moroccan government news agency MAP writes that no one has tested positive in Western Sahara - in the ‘southern provinces’ as Morocco labels it.
A letter has been sent from civil society to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, requesting the UN intervention to assist the peope of the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara.
The first Saharawi has died as consequence of the corona virus. Several sources confirm that to the Norwegian Support Committe for Western Sahara. The individual was in the 20s, resident in Spaina, and with an underlying disease.
See chocking video of Moroccan police in Morocco (not in Western Sahara) forcing Moroccans home to their houses.
Government officials in the Saharawi refugee camps visit the quaranteen centers in the refugee caps.
President Ghali announce further measures to prevent spread of corona to the camps.
Local authorities have started to desinfect å public space in the camps. The work has been observe in local shops. Download also photos from here, here, here, here, here, here. See also here on RASD TV Facebook.
A Saharawi youth league in Spain has started an online collect for the work to prevent corona outbreak in the camps. The Norwegian Support Committee has no connection to the collect campaign.
The corona task force in the refugee camps has published a statement regarding how suspected cases and future patients will be quaranteened or isolated.
"We have still not observed a case in the camps", Polisario leader Ghali expressed in a political meeting.
From this morning, everyone are placed in quaranteen in their homes in the refugee camps. Only emergency vehicules are now allowed to drive between the camps and Tindouf. Taxi services between the camps are banned. The same is gatherings of peoples. Schools have now closed.
Pictures are circulating on social media of Moroccan settlers gathering in crowds at the bus terminal in Dakhla in the occupied territories, to return home to Morocco. Se below (or download here or here.)
“Saharawi political prisoners at risk for the horrible corona pandemic in terrible penitary conditions should be immediately liberated”, Saharawi human rights activist Aminatu Haidar write on her Twitte account . [Download].
Both government and opposition in Algeria are requesting that the weekly demonstrations against the sitting government must be cancelled due to the corona crisis, BBC wrote.
A local pharmaceutical team in the refugee camps has started production of desinfection liquids.
The Saharawi army is stepping up border controls in to the liberated territories. The army is also set to patrol the ‘quaranteen centres’ in the liberated areas of the territory. This is told by the Polisario government news service SPS.
Saharawi authorities further describe the travel ban to the nearby city of Tindouf and what kinds of travels are excempted from the rules. They are also to establish something they label as ‘quaranteen centers’ according to SPS.
The loud speaker system established around in all the camps are apparently now announcing that refugees who have spent time abroad recently need to observe a 15 day quaranteen, according to the Saharawi website MAPNR.
Morocco is closing the border spot in Guerguerat all south west in occupied Western Sahara. Transport of goods are excempted from the rule. In this way, Morocco can continue the plunder of the territory's resources. The border post has the last year been a politically sensitive area between the parties, as Morocco took the liberty to move in to parts of Western Sahara until today never under foreign occupation.
The suspected corona infected refugee has tested negative, according to Saharawi news service El Confidencial.
The health minister in the refugee camps is interviewed about the work and composition of the corona task force.
The 'border' checkpoint between the refugee camps and the Algerian city of Tindouf has now been cosed, according to El Confidencial. The measure is to last for 14 days, for now. Saharawi authorities are reported to have banned travels to Tindouf.
The Ministry of health in the camps has established a Facebook account.
The local government in the municipality of Tindouf has issued a release about local measures. The municipality explains that there are now bans against public gatherings, demonstrations, cultural events, kindergartens, weekly market and mosques.
Saharawi government could in a press conference neither confirm nor deny whether the possibly infected Saharawi has corona virus.
The health department in the refugee camps has issued an advice to the refugees and to the Saharawis in the diaspora. The text expresses that there is a possible - but unconfirmed - case of corona already, and that Saharawis abroad are asked to not travel to the camps. All Saharawis arriving the camps from abroad are placed in a 2-week quaranteen, and gatherings of more than 20 people are forbidden.
The Saharawi human rights activist Mohamed Dihani, who is from the occupied territories, tested positive for corona during a stay in Tunisia. He confirmed this directly to the Norwegian Support Committee. .
The site El Confidencial reports a possibe first suspected corona case in the refugee camps.
The Algerian government announce that all ship and air traffic between Algeria and France are stopped from 17 March.
Polisario in Spain announce that foreign visitors can no longer visit the refugee camps.
Air Algerie announce the halt of all air traffic to Spain from tomorrow.
Two well-known Saharawi student activists were this week arrested in Agadir. A trial is expected to start today.
Since 1 April, two Saharawi political prisoners have been on hunger strike, in protest of the deplorable conditions they are living under.
So far, Yahya Mohamed Elhafed Iaazza has spent 14 years in Moroccan jails.