Located in a harsh desert region of Algeria (40 to 180 kilometres southwest of Tindouf), the Sahrawi refugee camps were established over thirty years ago in the wake of the conflict between the Polisario Front (the Saharawi liberation movement) and Morocco in 1976. Today, the situation of the Sahrawi refugees remains precarious and they remain heavily dependent on international humanitarian aid. Population estimates range between 90,000 and 150,000 people.

Options for livelihoods are extremely limited in the desert. Working conditions are also difficult for humanitarian agencies that face multiple constraints. The health status in the camps is fragile and health systems lack basic preventive and curative care capabilities. There is insufficient technology to produce food, water quality is inadequate, and sanitation and waste management unsafe.

The UN has assisted the Government of Algeria in meeting the basic food needs of the refugees since 1986. The EU has been providing assistance through the UN and others since 1993, as the largest funder for many years. With EU support, the UN provides a general food package to the most vulnerable. In 2009, the UN and the EU helped improve the lives of 90,000 Sahrawi refugees in camps near Tindouf with improved access to water, food and essential items. 125,000 food rations per month were provided. Because of the harsh environment, the nutritional situation of vulnerable groups remains fragile and is monitored closely. To ensure the adequate nutrition of children and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, the UN and the EU provided supplementary feeding rations to 10,000 mothers and under-nourished children under 5 years of age. Children up to 18 years old are routinely vaccinated through support provided by the EU.

People living in the camps also receive humanitarian assistance from a number of bilateral donors, non-governmental organisations, as well as from the Government of Algeria.