Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Ashton on behalf of the Commission
According to information received, three Europeans (two Spaniards and one Italian) working for humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf were abducted by ‘terrorist elements’ using a 4X4 type vehicle from Mali. This kidnapping action has been claimed by a newly created dissident branch of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The EU has strongly condemned this kidnapping and called upon those holding the individuals to release them immediately and without harm. The EU has also urged those with any influence over the kidnappers to work urgently to this end.
Humanitarian organisations present in the Saharawi camps, including the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), are working with local authorities in order to strengthen security measures. The Commission is currently assessing the security situation and is ready, if needed, to provide support to improve the security management capacity of its humanitarian partners.
As for the statement made by the Honourable Member that the Sahel-Sahara region has become a hub for smuggling food diverted from European humanitarian aid, the EU is not aware of any proven diversion of its humanitarian aid for the Saharawi refugees. Following some allegations of misapplication of funds to the Sahrawi refugees, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) carried out investigations whose conclusions did not lead to any request for recovery of funds or the necessity to initiate any judicial or administrative proceedings.
Regarding the situation of Western Sahara, the EU underlines the importance of improving the situation of human rights in accordance with the recent resolution of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 1979 (2011). The EU supports the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) to achieve just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solutions which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
In the context of the new threats emerging in the Sahel region, the European Union has put in place a Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel, which is already operational. An amount of EUR 150 million has been earmarked for diplomatic actions, security, development and prevention of radicalism. The Sahel Strategy demonstrates the solidarity of the European Union with the Sahel countries affected by the terrorist threat. It also emphasises the EU's continuous support to regional cooperation as a means to tackle this threat.