Human rights campaigner Sabrina Tucci spent a month in the Sahrawi camps in Tindouf earlier this year. Despite the recent kidnapping of three aid workers, Tucci feels she can still confirm that “the camps are one of the safest places on the planet”.
The whereabouts of the three aid workers which have been kidnapped during the night between October 22 and 23 from a refugee camp in South Western Algeria are still unknown.
I have spent a month within the refugee camps in Tindouf. During this time I have moved between February 27, Smara and Dakhla camps and the Rabuni centre. Rabuni is the political hub of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) where foreign aid workers usually lodge. The centre also hosts the Red Crescent, AFAPREDESA and other organizations. During my stay in Tindouf my security has never been threatened; on the contrary my physical and mental wellbeing have been ensured on a daily basis. Anytime I needed to reach a place I have been accompanied by someone, be this a member of my Sahrawi family, my Sahrawi translator and members of Protocol, the administrative branch of the Polisario. The Sahrawi community as a whole took entire responsibility for my security. Even when wanting to make use of the female bath, usually at 3pm, I had someone local taking care of me. And when my Sahrawi sisters and I decided to take a night trip to the desert to watch the stars, once at the dunes, we have been reached, stopped and taken by police officers to the police station. I was shocked and scared at the same time. What did I do wrong? Why was I being put on a Toyota, taken to the police station and questioned? I have found the answer immediately after.
Foreigners working in the camps have no permission to leave, especially at night, if not accompanied by a member of the Polisario. This is one of the measures taken by the Front to ensure the wellbeing of foreigners carrying out work in Tindouf. My safety has been once more guaranteed. Before travelling to the camps I have met a representative of the Polisario Front in London who told me: ‘the camps are one of the safest places on this planet’. I feel I can still confirm this, despite what has happened to the three aid workers.
I have decided to go to the camps and work there (I have been interviewing policy makers, victims of human rights abuses, artists and human rights activists) to give visibility to the Sahrawi cause, to break the silence on the Sahrawi situation. The Sahrawi conflict is one of the less discussed worldwide. Sahrawi refugees have been living in the camps in South Western Algeria since 1975. The Polisario Front has sought independence for Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, since its annexation in 1975 by Morocco. Since the 1991 cease-fire with the Moroccan forces, the Polisario has also been campaigning for a referendum on the right to self-determination. The referendum, however, has so far been ostracised by the Moroccan government. Morocco claims that Western Sahara has historically been part of the Moroccan territory and considers autonomy under its sovereignty the only solution to the conflict. Western Sahara is renowned for its phosphate-rich territory and its fine fishing waters. Offshore oil deposits are also believed to be in the region.
The plight of the Sahrawi population in the occupied and the liberated territories as well as in the refugee camps are rarely the focus of political and media discourse. For instance, MINURSO, the UN mission in Western Sahara, is still the only UN peacekeeping mission without a mandate to monitor human rights, despite calls from organisations such as the Western Sahara Campaign.
The limited media attention comes not as a surprise given the on-going silence by the international community on the Sahrawi cause, the cause of the last colony of Africa.
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* Sabrina Tucci is a human rights campaigner. She worked in the Saharawi refugee camps on behalf of Sandblast Arts Charity between December 2010 and January 2011.
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