Africa's last colony - Western Sahara
Before Spain officially decolonised Western Sahara in 1975, it had been occupied by Morocco and Mauretania. The latter withdrew its claim in 1979, while Morocco stayed. The Saharawi liberation movement-Polisario Front, reclaimed a small section of their country. In response Morocco built a 1000-mile-long wall, heavily fortified and mined, dividing the Saharawi refugees from those living in the occupied territories. In 1991 the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and agreed to organise a referendum in which the Saharawi people could vote on the future of Western Sahara. 28 years later they are still waiting for the referendum to take place. Today, approximately 165.000 Saharawis live in refugee camps in Algeria. The Saharawi people declared their own Republic in exile, recognised by more than 80 countries.
Identity is an inseparable part of human nature and its expression, such as freedom of speech, is a human right. Yet, any aspects of The Saharawis identity are forbidden and replaced by imposed foreign identity. They can’t use their language, they are surrounded by Moroccan flags, their steps are being watched and physical violence is used to repress signs of identity. Leading activists are sentenced to lifetime imprisionment by military courts. Over 500 Saharawis are still 'disappeared' in Moroccan custody. Many have not been heard from for 40 years. Relatives have been imprisoned and tortured for campaigning to know the truth about their fate. As a result, they isolate themselves to protect their families behind walls of their houses with small windows protected with steel bars and armoured doors.
The Saharawis are being isolated from outside world. On one hand by restricted access to travel beyond the borders, on the other hand by limited entry to Western Sahara of people from abroad. My personal experience with Western Sahara lasted less than 24h, against my will.
I was deported without any reason by Moroccan police to Agadir the next day. I was not the only one. Raising awareness about people and forgotten conflict in occupied territory of Western Sahara is an important step in pursuit towards a free country where human rights are no longer violated.
© Dagmara Wojtanowicz