EU Anti-Fraud Office Documents Polisario Theft of Refugee Aid
AFP unearths 2007 report on “well-organized, years-long diversion of aid” meant for camps in Tindouf, Algeria
Washington, DC, January 26, 2014 (MACP) — French news agency AFP revealed last week that it had obtained a report on a four-year investigation (2003-2007) by the European Union’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) documenting “well-organized, years-long” embezzlement by the Polisario Front of humanitarian aid designated for Sahrawi refugees in the Polisario-run camps in Tindouf, Algeria. According to AFP, the report was “forgotten” until a 2014 intervention by the EU Ombudsman. It includes the names of suspected organizers of the theft, but those names were redacted in the copy the AFP obtained. This latest report offers further evidence of the embezzlement, as documented previously by the World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
According to AFP, OLAF was unable to assess exactly how much is stolen of the 10 million Euros the EU allocates each year to the refugees, but the report reveals three key elements of the theft:
- Inflation of the number of Sahwaris residing in the camps. The report states ‘’One of the reasons that made these diversions possible is the overestimation of the number of refugees and therefore aid provided.” The EU has provided aid since 1975, based on Algerian estimates of a population of 150,000; in 2005, OLAF unilaterally reduced that estimate to 90,000. But because the Polisario and Algeria have for decades consistently refused to allow the UN to conduct a census in the camps, the true population is unknown. And despite the 2007 report on theft, the EU has not suspended or reduced the amount of aid provided.
- Diversion of food aid. Eyewitnesses have long reported that the Polisario routinely diverts food meant for the refugees and sells it on the black market. The OLAF investigation, according to AFP, found that the diversion “begins in the Algerian port of Oran, where the sorting between ‘what should arrive and what can be diverted’ takes place.” OLAF reported, for example, that Canadian wheat intended for the camps is replaced by lower quality grain, and the high quality wheat is sold; and that products for raising poultry are also sold rather than being provided to the refugees.
- The use of unpaid prison laborers to handle food aid, and for construction of buildings financed by international aid.
“The EU report is further proof of what has been well known and documented for decades – tens of thousands of Sahrawis are trapped in desperate conditions in the Tindouf camps under the despotic Polisario regime that denies them basic human rights and literally steals the food out of their mouths,” said Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel. “It is time for the EU and the rest of the international community to recognize the Polisario for what it is and put an end to this humanitarian crisis.”
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