(This shouldn’t be considered an ‘official’ update, but a summary of the situation based off of personal contact with Saharawi friends living in the camps – an attempt to answer the questions of those of us elsewhere who love them!).
As the rest of the world has closed down opportunities for human contact and is facing the suffering and loss that this COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon us, the Saharawi refugee camps have so far successfully been able to avoid this scourge. This has likely been achieved by an early response of closing off their already limited connections to the outside world.
In perhaps the only situation where their extreme isolation and harsh environment could be counted a benefit, we are thankful to hear reports that our friends in the camps continue to be safe from this pandemic. They have taken smart precautions by closing off unnecessary travel between camps or outside of them, closing schools and some businesses, and not meeting in close quarters at the mosque for the additional ‘Tarawih’ prayers during Ramadan. They have created a Coronavirus Prevention Task Force made up of Saharawi doctors and nurses to continually monitor the camps’ response to this risk.
Day-to-day social life is not largely changed for many Saharawis living in the camps, as they can continue to gather as families, visit friends within their camp, or go to the market. Yet there are some ways that the restrictions have been heavily felt. Some families’ finances are largely from family members working as taxi drivers, teachers or other professions affected by closures, or they are dependent on relatives working abroad whose jobs have been affected by the virus. So not only are people suffering from job loss like in the rest of the world, but some crucial sources of money have been cut off with little opportunity to make it up. As far as we are aware here, basic food aid is still being provided and we haven’t heard reports of people being without their bare necessities.
As there are still so many unknowns about the future of this virus in the world, we are holding onto hope for the Saharawi people’s continued protection from it. Even more so, we hope for their justice and ability to be able to deal with future crises from their own country and with their rightful resources!
Post By: Heather Jost, May 4th, 2020