Washington, DC (April 24) — As the takeover of Mali’s historic Timbuktu by al-Qaeda and other militants highlights volatility in Africa’s Sahara/Sahel, a new report documents how refugee camps run by the separatist Polisario Front near Tindouf, Algeria have become a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers in the region. The report urges UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) to also focus aid to the camps on durable solutions that help resettle refugees, improve humanitarian conditions, and stop perpetuating another source of instability.
“The case for UNHCR supporting durable solutions for the Polisario-run camps,” from the Moroccan American Center for Policy, documents recent incidents and expert reports of Polisario-member involvement in:
— Drug/arms trafficking in the Sahara/Sahel;
— Armed incursions into Mali;
— As mercenaries for Qaddafi in Libya; and,
— Kidnappings and collaboration with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), including the Oct. 23 kidnapping of Western aid-workers in the Polisario-run camps by an AQIM-offshoot, with Polisario-insider assistance.
According to experts at Carnegie Endowment, Atlantic Council, and International Center for Terrorism Studies, the Polisario-run camps have become a recruiting ground for AQIM, a hub for opportunistic Polisario traffickers, and a threat to the region and reforms of the Arab Spring.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently warned, “inaction could be catastrophic,” as AQIM allies with cocaine traffickers smuggling almost $1 billion annually through the Sahel, which borders the Sahara in North Africa. That warning came before the crisis and potential “rogue state” in Mali.
Experts fear an “arc of instability” is now stretching across Africa, linking militants from AQIM, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the Polisario. Noting close AQIM-Polisario-member ties, Africa security expert J. Peter Pham says, “It is like before 9/11, when we might have asked ourselves: ‘Who cares about Afghanistan?’ But jihadists ultimately need a place to operate and what we are now seeing is the creation of a safe haven for terrorists and extremists who are being squeezed out elsewhere.”
Since 1990, international support for the camps has exceeded $1 billion—and US aid exceeds $300 million. Given escalating security concerns, the report recommends that US support to UNHCR for the camps also be used for durable solutions to resettle refugees, remove security threats, and improve humanitarian conditions.
* For Report/Chronology documenting Polisario-member ties to AQIM/traffickers: http://moroccoonthemove.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/thecasefordurablesolutions-chronology.pdf
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