The Budgetary Control and Development Committees of the European Parliament are both actively involved in investigating the case of the Misappropriation of Humanitarian Aid to the Tindouf refugee camps in Southern Algeria, as reported in EUToday last week.
A source within the European Parliament, speaking on strict condition of anonymity, confirmed last week that “the Budgetary Control Committee is aware of EUToday’s article of June 30th”.
After having been largely behind the outcry aroused in the Parliament around the theme of the embezzlement of European humanitarian aid, we return today through this article to share with our readers the latest developments on this subject:
The day after publication, French MEP Nicolas Bay, Vice-President of the Parliament’s Identity and Democracy group issued a damning statement in which he referred to the matter of the 2003-07 investigation into the matter by OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud office.
In January 2015, a European Union report written in 2007 by the European Anti-Fraud Office was finally published, revealing a system of massive embezzlement of humanitarian aid orchestrated by the Polisario Front – an armed independence movement which claims part of the Moroccan Sahara – with the complicity of Algeria. This damning report indicated that the actual number of refugees in the Tindouf camps, controlled by the Polisario in western Algeria, was completely unknown: the authorities prohibit the EU from sending a mission to assess the situation. A hearing in the European Parliament in July 2015 even revealed that Algeria, which receives aid at the port of Oran, taxed at 5% of aid sent!
Nicolas Bay MEP
The following day, Mr. Bay’s French colleague, Dominique Bilde, took to the floor during a hearing of the Parliament’s Development Committee in order to confront EU Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, who is in charge of humanitarian aid.
Calling for a prompt investigation she said “Part of the humanitarian aid would be sold to help purchase military equipment… tanks and missiles, and the number of refugees would be greatly overstated in order to capture more subsidies. This shady system has been documented since the OLAF investigation… When will the European Commission have the courage to put an end to this scandal and finally make the Algerian state face up to its responsibilities? ”
Commissioner Lenarčič confirmed “there are often doubts about the real figures in the areas where we cannot access”. Algeria and Polisario consistently refuse any census of the populations despite multiple calls from international organisations including the UN and the UNHCR.
Madame Bilde confirmed to us that she had previously raised the issue of misappropriation the EU aid with Commissioner Lenarčič’s predecessor Christos Stylianides, stressing the need for greater control over the future of European aid in conflict zones, the cases of diversion being proven, and that she had not received a satisfactory response.
Her intervention was followed on July 6th with a publication by our colleagues in the Brussels press of an op-ed in which she gave her reaction to the Commissioner’s response.
Commissioner Lenarčič’s response has not been satisfactory: however I hope that the increased media coverage of these hijackings will finally push the Commission to put an end to these abuses and I, for my part, will continue to monitor this matter closely.
Dominique Bilde MEP.
In her article she announced that she will prepare a resolution to demand an audit of the humanitarian aid of the Tindouf camps in Algeria and to exhort the European Commission to implement a population census in the Tindouf camps.
On July 9th, along with German MEP Bernhard Zimniok, and Gianna Gancia from Italy, both members of the Parliament’s Development Committee, Mme. Bilde tabled a Motion for a Resolution on the matter which:
• Calls on the European Union to work jointly with the United Nations to supervise a census of refugees from the Tindouf camps in collaboration with the competent authorities in Algeria;
• Calls on the European Union to audit the use of European humanitarian aid by Polisario since 2015.
According to article 143 of the European Parliament internal rules, The motion of resolution will now be with the office of President of the European Parliament, the Italian David Sassoli, for his consideration before submitting it to one of the competent commissions most likely DEVE or CONT Commission.
Walter Grupp, Director of the Brussels office of the Taxpayer’s Association of Europe, a federation of 29 national taxpayers associations throughout Europe with more than one million members, spoke about the issue, one that his association has been aware of for some time.
It is our duty to help with humanitarian aid, and we are proud to do so. However there is an expectation our money is administered well… we are not satisfied with the politics, with the lack of transparency, or with the European Commission itself.
In the light of Herr Grupp’s words, it is worth noting that the EU’s humanitarian aid budget for 2019 was a record €1.6 billion.
Like EUToday, he is not in favour of reducing the amount of €10 Million because our goal is not to punish the populations who are the main victims of this embezzlement. He also commented that the Budgetary Control Committee must take note of evidence proving continued diversion of humanitarian aid intended for the Tindouf camps, and that that the European Commission should clarify what measures, if any, were taken in response to the findings of the 2007 OLAF report.
“I and the taxpayers association agree with number 235 of the report* because nothing has been concretised since 2015.” he told us, “as the German MEP Ingborg Grassle did in 2015. We urge the Commission to ensure that the Algerian or Sahrawi individuals incriminated by the OLAF report no longer have access to aid funded by Union taxpayers; calls on the Commission to re-evaluate and adapt Union aid to the actual needs of the population concerned and to ensure that the interests and needs of the refugees will not be harmed because they are the most vulnerable to any possible irregularity. The census of the refugees is a condition sine qua non.”
“Sorry, but I don’t want to criticise Mrs. Grässle and her successor Mrs. Hohlmeier of the EEP group. I know personally that they would really contact the right persons in the Commission and the EAAS. I believe that somebody at the level of those institutions does not take this matter seriously.”
Finally, at EUToday we were pleased to learn that our article rattled cages among Polisario supporters. I received a highly critical but polite reaction from a gentleman in New Zealand who is associated with the pro-Polisario Waiwhetu Lower Hutt Peace Group.
It is worth repeating that Polisario was founded as a Marxist-Leninist organisation – although it claims to have now embraced free market economics – and which, as evidenced by a 1983 CIA report has received military equipment from Cuba and the Soviet Union.
EUToday spoke to Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk, who has recently raised the matter of the aid embezzlement with the European Commission. We asked him if, as an MEP, would he and his colleagues from Renew Europe carry this thorny and very important subject for the European taxpayer, and how would he carry this forward? Also, was the Budgetary ControlCommittee aware about the continued diversion of European humanitarian aid in the camps from taxpayers money and the role of Algeria in this, and the non-registration of a refugee population for such a prolonged period?
“Of course,” he told us. “The European Parliament closely follows the situation on the ground and takes action when necessary. The EU taxpayers’ money must be spent properly and we should not close our eyes when there is such a misuse of funds.”
It is not in the competence of the MEP to put an end to a certain EU humanitarian aid programme but there are different institutional instruments that can be used. Parliamentary questions or resolutions present good opportunities to raise awareness and provoke a political debate for example… I am convinced that my colleagues from the budgetary committee are aware on the situation and they well control the implementation of the Union’s budget, meaning that the taxpayers’ money is spent efficiently, effectively and according to EU law. If they find fraud and irregularities in the budget implementation, proper measures will be suggested in order to prevent and prosecute such case.
Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP
However, leaving aside the forces involved and political conflicts, this is an internal European debate around the transparency and the truth of our European political institutions and systems, and defending the populations in the Tindouf camps.
These highly vulnerable folk, in addition to being deprived of drinking water and electricity, and living in tents in deplorable conditions, must suffer the greed of the Polisario leaders who are enriched further by their misery.
Their conditions are deteriorating. A UN Security Council report (October 2019) highlighted, amongst other issues, a distressing increase in levels of malnutrition in the camps. This is the human cost of the misappropriation of food aid.
* 235. Takes note that OLAF drafted a report on the humanitarian aid granted to the Saharawi refugee camp of Tindouf in Algeria (OF 2003/526); calls on the Commission to clarify the measures taken in response to the findings of that report; notes that according to a UNHCR inquiry report(46) the non-registration of a refugee population for such a prolonged period (i.e almost 30 years after their arrival) constitutes “an abnormal and unique situation in the UNHCR’s history”; urges the Commission to ensure that the Algerian or Sahrawi individuals incriminated by the OLAF report no longer have access to aid funded by Union taxpayers; calls on the Commission to re-evaluate and adapt Union aid to the actual needs of the population concerned and to ensure that the interests and needs of the refugees will not be harmed because they are the most vulnerable to any possible irregularity.