Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2017, 08:52 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees Mid-Year Country Report 2001 - Western Sahara

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 August 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees Mid-Year Country Report 2001 - Western Sahara , 1 August 2001, available at: [accessed 19 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The dispute between Morocco and a rebel group known as the Polisario (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro) over the political status of Western Sahara has persisted for 26 years. Both sides agreed in 1988 to settle their differences peacefully in a referendum that would determine the political future of Western Sahara. The referendum has not occurred, however, because of disagreements over voter eligibility. A UN peacekeeping force has helped maintain peace since 1991 while political negotiations drag on.

At the beginning of 2001, an estimated 110,000 Western Saharans, known as ethnic Sahrawis, remained refugees in neighboring countries.

Recent Political/Military/Human Rights Developments

The ten-year cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario continued during the first half of 2001 despite growing unrest among Sahrawi refugees in Algeria and threats by the Polisario to resume fighting.

The UN Secretary-General's Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, James Baker III, offered a draft proposal to break the deadlock, but the proposal remained unsigned as of mid-year. The draft proposal offered Western Sahara political and economic autonomy from Morocco for five years, coupled with Moroccan control over Western Sahara's foreign relations and military needs. The proposal called for a referendum on Western Saharan independence at the end of the five-year autonomy period. The Baker plan proposed granting voter eligibility in the referendum to all persons who were full-time residents of the territory one year prior to the referendum. Moroccan authorities indicated their unofficial acceptance of the Baker plan. Polisario leaders announced their "total opposition" to the proposal because, they said, it tilts toward integration of Western Sahara into Morocco.

New Uprooted Populations

The size of the refugee population remained unchanged during the first half of 2001. No new refugees have fled from Western Sahara for many years, and virtually no Sahrawi refugees have repatriated from Algeria during the past two decades.

Humanitarian Conditions

Conditions for the 80,000 or more Sahrawi refugees in Algeria deteriorated during the first half of 200l. An assessment by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in April, summarized in a report by the UN Secretary General in June, concluded that the "overall situation of the refugees was very precarious and that the reduction of basic assistance ... has had a deteriorating effect on the vulnerable refugees." The UN report emphasized that the refugee population was receiving "inadequate basic food deliveries." UNHCR reported that a "dramatic budget shortfall" forced it to reduce humanitarian assistance to Sahrawi refugees by $600,000. In June, the UN World Food Program warned that even more serious food shortages might occur in September unless food donations from major nations increase.

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