Supporting people in a forgotten country

This autumn WarTrauma provided a training far away in the desert of Algeria. The purpose of the training was to improve the psychological support for the Sahrawi. A special training, because the Sahrawi are the focal point of a forgotten conflict, in a divided country and with a government in exile. Isolated in large refugee camps the situation of hopelessness is difficult to imagine.

After Spain renounced their colony Western Sahara in 1975, neighbouring countries Mauritania and Morocco decided to divide the country. The independence movement Polisario resisted and a war was waged from 1976 until a truce was closed in 1991. Mauritania retreated, but Morocco has divided the country in isolated patches by creating a barrier of 2400 kilometers of large earthen walls and minefields. While the annexation by Morocco has been denounced by many countries, the independent Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic proclaimed by Polisario has not been universally recognized.

The training took place in Tindouf, in the Southern dessert of Algeria. Here a semi-autonomous region was set up supported by Algeria and the large refugee camps are where the government in exile is seated. The training was attended by doctors, psychologists and other health staff, mostly educated in Cuba, Spain or Russia. The training brought forward many gaps in knowledge and skills around mental health care.

For example, the psychologists are strong communicators, but they do not use standard methodologies of therapy. Doctors and nurses are familiar with diagnostics and most medications, but often do not realise side effects and contra indications. With regards to depression and post traumatic stress syndrome none of the participants were familiar with standard therapies such as EMDR or Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy.

The training was hosted by the UN Refugee organisation UNHCR in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of the Sahrawi government in exile. War Trauma is looking to do a follow up training to address the many issues we were unable to address. Additional funds to realise this are welcome.