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Western Sahara: forgotten European colony

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The Sahrawis celebrate their 30th Independence Day on February 27

In 1976 the independence movement, the Polisario Front (Frente Polisario), proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD) just as Spain (the former colonial power) withdrew from the territory. This territory has been the subject of dispute between Mauritania and Morocco, the country which occupies almost all of it. On 12 January 2007, Nicaragua joined the African Union and the 45 world nations which recognise the sovereignty of RASD. No European country recognises this sovereignty, nor the annexation carried out by Morocco. 260,000 Western Sahara inhabitants are currently living in no-man’s land. There, the institutions have no power and they are not given any public assistance.

Although it has strengthened its economic relations with Morocco since Rodríguez Zapatero came to power, (including investments in tourism, negotiation of fishing quotas for Spanish boats and the 'sale of weapons to Morocco in order to rearm the Alaouite army and persecute the independence movement,' as the Communist MEP Willy Meier denounced at the beginning of February), Spain is more indecisive when it comes to supporting the Sahrawis. Neighbouring Algeria, a firm defender of Western Saharan independence, is providing refuge to 160,000 Sahrawis in the desert surrounding the Algerian province of Tindouf. Isolated from the rest of the world, they depend on what the European NGO lorries take from the port of Oran to the south of the country.

The Sahwaris are the oldest refugees in the world. They have been surviving in the Algerian hamada for 31 years thanks to international aid.

Sahrawi women enjoy freedom unlike other women from Arabic countries claiming to be democratic. They actively participate in the political and social life of the refugee camp.In any conflict, the children are the ones that suffer most. In the Sahara they are the best ambassadors for their cause thanks to ‘’ (), which enables them to spend the summer months in Spain.

Vacaciones en PazHolidays in Peace

The Algerian government has given the Sahrawis a strip of land in the southeast of the country close to the border with Western Sahara where they are allowed to move freely.

One of the most worrying problems is the lack of work. There are thousands of highly educated young people who do not have a job or even any hope of a future.Mohammed is one of the young people who studied optics outside of the camp in Hungary and now works in the hospital at . Everyone calls him the ‘Bulgarian’.

El Aaiún

At the end of the war in 1992, several groups of Western doctors had visited the refugee camps. For this reason it is now the African country with the most diagnosed medical conditions.

Whether it is because of their culture or because of their religion, the Sahrawi elders are listened to and respected. The young work and learn from them.

The Sahrawi are a hospitable people who always receive visitors as though they were part of the family and offer them food, drink and shelter.

Women carry a lot of authority and for many years now, have taken responsibility for the day to day functioning of the camp.

The day begins and ends with tea. All the Sahrawis, and anybody who visits the refugee camps, socialise around the ‘table’ and the brazier.On February 27, 1976, the flag of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic was raised for the first time. Since then it has presided over all acts and celebrations.

Dedicates to the memory of Ali ould Jatari, who passed away January 29 last year in the refugee camps, and to all those who have died in the so-called ‘corner of the desert.’

Translated from El Sáhara Occidental: una colonia europea olvidada