• Crisis Severity ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Impact ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Humanitarian Conditions ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Complexity ?
    0 Very low
    Very high 5
  • Access Constraints ?
    No constraints
    Extreme constraints

Key figures

  • 174,000 People displaced [?]



At least 173,600 Sahrawi refugees are living in five camps located in Tindouf province. Most refugees arrived since the escalation of the conflict in Western Sahara in 1975, or were born in the camps. 90,000 of them are considered particularly vulnerable by UNHCR due to their heavy reliance on humanitarian assistance to access food, water, education, and other necessities. Livelihood is constrained in the camps, located in a remote desert area where employment opportunities are almost non-existent. ?

A 2019 assessment reported that 60% of the Sahrawi households surveyed had a Food Consumption Score (FCS) deemed acceptable, while 42% of households only were provided with the recommended 20 litres of water per person per day.?

In May 2019, Algerian authorities decided to confiscate the Algerian passports of Sahrawi refugees that were used to travel abroad. This decision has caused protests in Tindouf refugee camps. ? The camps are also exposed to floods and sandstorms. ?


Latest developments


No significant recent humanitarian developments. This crisis is being monitored by our analysis team.


Localised fighting aggravates existing protection concerns and results in increased protection needs and limited access to services Latest update: 20/05/2021


Highly unlikely Somewhat likely Highly likely


Very low Moderate Major

Risk rationale

Clashes erupted between Morocco and the independence-seeking Sahrawi movement, the Polisario Front, over the contested territory of Western Sahara in late 2020 for the first time in 29 years. On 13 November 2020, Moroccan soldiers entered the UN-monitored buffer zone between Morocco and Polisario-controlled areas, violating the 1991 ceasefire agreement. They aimed to re-open the Guerguerat border crossing - the main route connecting Morocco with Mauritania - which had been blocked by supporters of the Polisario Front for three weeks. The Polisario Front accused the Moroccan security forces of shooting civilians, and targeted Moroccan military posts in response. Although the violence had died down by early December, the US subsequently recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the contested territory. Several African and Middle Eastern countries then opened consulates in Laayoune - Western Sahara’s capital, which is controlled by Morocco - increasing the international recognition of Morocco’s control.?

These developments are likely to drive increasing frustration among the Polisario movement, which has been waiting for a resolution of the conflict since 1975, and among Sahrawi refugees in camps near Tindouf, Algeria, who have been waiting to return to Western Sahara. Western Sahara’s self-determination referendum is increasingly unlikely to happen, the international political peace process has stagnated, and there has been no Special Representative of the Secretary General for Western Sahara appointed since May 2019.? The latest escalation in conflict resulted in a decision by the Polisario movement to resume its policy of armed resistance.? The lack of progress towards a political resolution, coupled with the Moroccan government’s steadily increasing control, is likely to cause the Polisario movement to undertake localised attacks along the Berm - a 2,700km sand wall that divides areas controlled by Morocco and the Polisario - in an attempt to bring international attention to its cause.

Even small-scale, localised attacks are likely to trigger a heavyhanded response by Moroccan forces seeking to crack down on the Polisario movement in their controlled areas. In the longer term, this could become a driver for regional tensions between Morocco and Algeria - the main supporter of the Polisario. 

Risk impact

The increase in conflict between the Polisario Front and Morocco will expose Sahrawi people to more violence and protection concerns, worsen humanitarian needs such as food, water, and shelter, disrupt humanitarian access, and cause displacement. While the 30,000 people living in Polisario-controlled areas are likely to be affected the most, there is a moderate risk that the humanitarian impact will extend to the 500,000-600,000 people living in Morocco-controlled areas of Western Sahara and the 170,000 Sahrawi refugees living in camps in Algeria.?

Insecurity is highly likely to increase protection incidents against Sahrawi activists and people associated with them in Morocco-controlled areas.? Suspected Sahrawi activists and supporters are likely to experience close surveillance and harassment, and be subjected to interrogation, arrest, and imprisonment. Sahrawi people are likely to be separated from family members who are living in areas administered by competing parties.

Civilians in Polisario-controlled areas will be caught in the crossfire and exposed to violence, which may force them to flee into Algeria. The remaining population is likely to lack access to assistance because of restricted humanitarian access. The Berm is significantly contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war, limiting mobility between areas controlled by the Polisario and Morocco.? Increased levels of insecurity could further hamper both people’s movement and humanitarian interventions, isolating the Sahrawi people from services and assistance.

New arrivals would put additional pressure on already overstretched camps on the border with Algeria, which are highly dependent on aid to survive because of a lack of access to sustainable livelihoods.? The insecurity implications could hamper humanitarian movements in the camps, with serious consequences for refugees, particularly regarding their access to essential goods and services including food and hygiene items.

Read the full Global Risk Analysis here.

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Key Priorities


Food: 30% of the refugee population is food insecure, while 58% is vulnerable to food insecurity.?

Livelihoods: The remote location of the camps and the limited access to resources constrain employment opportunities and render the refugees dependent on humanitarian activities. ?

Information Gaps and Needs

  • The data on Sahrawi refugees has not been updated since 2017 and only captures the refugees living inside the camp. There is no information on the out-of-camp population.
  • Systematic, publicly available, multi-sectoral assessments of humanitarian needs are lacking. Political considerations have interfered with the accurate reporting of the number of Sahrawi refugees in the camps.?

COVID-19 Outbreak


15,941 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 952 deaths have been reported as of 06 July countrywide. As of 22 May at least 14 COVID-19 cases were reported in Tindouf town, but none in the Sahrawi refugee camps in the same province. The refugee camps and their 173,600 inhabitants have been in lockdown, with camp schools closed, since mid March. Humanitarian agencies still manage to deliver essential aid to the communities, while pausing all non-essential operations. As day labourers and taxi drivers can no longer work and livelihood programmes have come to a halt the income and food security levels of several households are threatened. Shortages of disinfection materials and PPE have been reported. The Government of Algeria included Sahrawi refugees in its national response plan. Response has included sensitisation campaigns targeting the camps, provision of medical material, and a referral system for suspected cases.?