The Tindouf area is located on the hammada, a vast desert plain of the Sahara Desert. Summer temperatures in this part of the hammada, historically known as “The Devil’s Garden”, are often above 50°C and frequent sand storms disrupt normal life. There is little or no vegetation, and firewood has to be gathered by car tens of kilometers away. Only a few of the camps have access to water, and the drinking sources are neither clean nor sufficient for the entire refugee population. Basic life cannot be sustained in this environment, and the camps are completely dependent on foreign aid.
Sahrawi refugees are among the longest warehoused refugee groups in the world. In a situation lasting over 30 years, more than 120,000 refugees wait in four remote refugee camps — El Aaiun, Awserd, Smara, and Dakhla — in the desolate Sahara desert in southwest Algeria.
The international community has all but forgotten these men, women, and children who fled their homes in the mid-’70s because of fighting between the Moroccan military and the Polisario Front, a rebel group who seeks independence for the Western Sahara.
The Sahrawi refugees living in five camps in Tindouf are almost totally dependent on humanitarian assistance, as opportunities for income generation are scarce.
The role of Sahrawi women (circa 65% population) was central already in pre-colonial and colonial life, but was strengthened further during the war years (1975–1991), when Sahrawi women ran most of the camps’ administration, while the men were fighting at the front. This together with literacy- and professional education classes produced major advances in the role of women in Sahrawi society.