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Saharawi, The Forgotten Refugees of the Sahara

David Verberckt | SADR

Rabouni, an area in South Western Algeria allocared to the Polisario, de de facto government in exile of the Western Sahara, a disputed territory occupied for 80% by Morocco since 1976. Between 120 and 150,000 Sahawari refugees live in this desertic area in 5 refugee camps and Rabouni as government and admisistrative center. Rabouni, Tindouf Province, Algeria, December 2019

The Western Sahara protracted conflict between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco started from an insurgency by the Polisario against the occupying Spanish colonial forces from 1973 to 1975 and the subsequent Western Sahara War against Morocco that lasted from 1975 to 1991. The armed conflict escalated in full war with the withdrawal of Spain from the area. The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, waged a 16 year-long war for independence against the invading forces of Mauritania and Morocco. In 1976, the Polisario Front declared the establishment of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which was not admitted into the United Nations, but won recognition from a number of other states, mainly in Africa and Latin America.

In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict and the territories it was occupying, leaving only Moroccan forces and the Polisario in the disputed territory. Finally after 16 years of war, a cease-fire agreement was reached in 1991.Since then until now most of the Western Sahara remained under Moroccan control, while the Polisario controls only 20% of the territory as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic with an additional area in Algeria where the Saharawi Refugee camps and the SADR government in exile is vested. At present most of the Western Sahara, the entire coastal area and its unlimited valuable mineral resources are controlled and settled by the Moroccan government and considered an integral part of the Moroccan territory as the "Southern Provinces". This de facto territorial annexation has not been recognised by the United Nations or any other State. Morocco has, as early as 1979, been building a 2,700 Km long sand wall separating it from the Polisario controlled areas but also cutting all communication between Saharawi nomadic communities used to roam freely the desert. Also, an estimated 5 to 7 million landmines have been laid along the wall making it the longest active security wall in the world and one of the most heavily mined areas on the planet. It is often referred to as the wall of shame. The Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, are a cluster of 5 refugee camps spread out in a very remote desertic area. The camps were established in 1975-76 for Saharawi refugees fleeing advancing Moroccan and Mauritanian troops. Most of the original refugees with an additional two generations are still living in the camps, making it one of the most protracted and forgotten refugee crisis in the world. An estimated 150,000 Saharawi refugees live today in the camps, where it is nearly impossible to sustain basic life. Food, water, building materials, firewood and clothing are brought in by car and truck mainly by international aid agencies. But with ever growing refugee crisis around the world, aid to the Saharawi refugees is being substantially reduced or completely stopped. With lack of food, especially vegetables, fruit and nutritious food, many children and women suffer from severe to acute nutritional deficiencies. The camps are sometimes also hit by severe flash floods that destroy shelters usually consisting of tents and 'hard' mud brick houses. During the past decade, tents and mud brick structures are being gradually replaced by concrete block shelters. The Saharawi refugee population is more than 40 years later still fully dependent on external humanitarian aid, and with limited opportunities for self-reliance in the harsh desert environment it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The Western Sahara protracted conflict between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco started from an insurgency by the Polisario against the occupying Spanish colonial forces from 1973 to 1975 and the subsequent Western Sahara War against Morocco that lasted from 1975 to 1991. The armed conflict escalated in full war with the withdrawal of Spain from the area. The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, waged a 16 year-long war for independence against the invading forces of Mauritania and Morocco. In 1976, the Polisario Front declared the establishment of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which was not admitted into the United Nations, but won recognition from a number of other states, mainly in Africa and Latin America. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict and the territories it was occupying, leaving only Moroccan forces and the Polisario in the disputed territory. Finally after 16 years of war, a cease-fire agreement was reached in 1991.Since then until now most of the Western Sahara remained under Moroccan control, while the Polisario controls only 20% of the territory as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic with an additional area in Algeria where the Saharawi Refugee camps and the SADR government in exile is vested. At present most of the Western Sahara, the entire coastal area and its unlimited valuable mineral resources are controlled and settled by the Moroccan government and considered an integral part of the Moroccan territory as the "Southern Provinces". This de facto territorial annexation has not been recognised by the United Nations or any other State. Morocco has, as early as 1979, been building a 2,700 Km long sand wall separating it from the Polisario controlled areas but also cutting all communication between Saharawi nomadic communities used to roam freely the desert. Also, an estimated 5 to 7 million landmines have been laid along the wall making it the longest active security wall in the world and one of the most heavily mined areas on the planet. It is often referred to as the wall of shame. The Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, are a cluster of 5 refugee camps spread out in a very remote desertic area. The camps were established in 1975-76 for Saharawi refugees fleeing advancing Moroccan and Mauritanian troops. Most of the original refugees with an additional two generations are still living in the camps, making it one of the most protracted and forgotten refugee crisis in the world. An estimated 150,000 Saharawi refugees live today in the camps, where it is nearly impossible to sustain basic life. Food, water, building materials, firewood and clothing are brought in by car and truck mainly by international aid agencies. But with ever growing refugee crisis around the world, aid to the Saharawi refugees is being substantially reduced or completely stopped. With lack of food, especially vegetables, fruit and nutritious food, many children and women suffer from severe to acute nutritional deficiencies. The camps are sometimes also hit by severe flash floods that destroy shelters usually consisting of tents and 'hard' mud brick houses. During the past decade, tents and mud brick structures are being gradually replaced by concrete block shelters. The Saharawi refugee population is more than 40 years later still fully dependent on external humanitarian aid, and with limited opportunities for self-reliance in the harsh desert environment it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict and the territories it was occupying, leaving only Moroccan forces and the Polisario in the disputed territory. Finally after 16 years of war, a cease-fire agreement was reached in 1991.Since then until now most of the Western Sahara remained under Moroccan control, while the Polisario controls only 20% of the territory as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic with an additional area in Algeria where the Saharawi Refugee camps and the SADR government in exile is vested. At present most of the Western Sahara, the entire coastal area and its unlimited valuable mineral resources are controlled and settled by the Moroccan government and considered an integral part of the Moroccan territory as the "Southern Provinces". This de facto territorial annexation has not been recognised by the United Nations or any other State. Morocco has, as early as 1979, been building a 2,700 Km long sand wall separating it from the Polisario controlled areas but also cutting all communication between Saharawi nomadic communities used to roam freely the desert. Also, an estimated 5 to 7 million landmines have been laid along the wall making it the longest active security wall in the world and one of the most heavily mined areas on the planet. It is often referred to as the wall of shame. The Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, are a cluster of 5 refugee camps spread out in a very remote desertic area. The camps were established in 1975-76 for Saharawi refugees fleeing advancing Moroccan and Mauritanian troops. Most of the original refugees with an additional two generations are still living in the camps, making it one of the most protracted and forgotten refugee crisis in the world. An estimated 150,000 Saharawi refugees live today in the camps, where it is nearly impossible to sustain basic life. Food, water, building materials, firewood and clothing are brought in by car and truck mainly by international aid agencies. But with ever growing refugee crisis around the world, aid to the Saharawi refugees is being substantially reduced or completely stopped. With lack of food, especially vegetables, fruit and nutritious food, many children and women suffer from severe to acute nutritional deficiencies. The camps are sometimes also hit by severe flash floods that destroy shelters usually consisting of tents and 'hard' mud brick houses. During the past decade, tents and mud brick structures are being gradually replaced by concrete block shelters. The Saharawi refugee population is more than 40 years later still fully dependent on external humanitarian aid, and with limited opportunities for self-reliance in the harsh desert environment it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from the conflict and the territories it was occupying, leaving only Moroccan forces and the Polisario in the disputed territory. Finally after 16 years of war, a cease-fire agreement was reached in 1991.Since then until now most of the Western Sahara remained under Moroccan control, while the Polisario controls only 20% of the territory as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic with an additional area in Algeria where the Saharawi Refugee camps and the SADR government in exile is vested. At present most of the Western Sahara, the entire coastal area and its unlimited valuable mineral resources are controlled and settled by the Moroccan government and considered an integral part of the Moroccan territory as the "Southern Provinces". This de facto territorial annexation has not been recognised by the United Nations or any other State. Morocco has, as early as 1979, been building a 2,700 Km long sand wall separating it from the Polisario controlled areas but also cutting all communication between Saharawi nomadic communities used to roam freely the desert. Also, an estimated 5 to 7 million landmines have been laid along the wall making it the longest active security wall in the world and one of the most heavily mined areas on the planet. It is often referred to as the wall of shame. The Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, are a cluster of 5 refugee camps spread out in a very remote desertic area. The camps were established in 1975-76 for Saharawi refugees fleeing advancing Moroccan and Mauritanian troops. Most of the original refugees with an additional two generations are still living in the camps, making it one of the most protracted and forgotten refugee crisis in the world. An estimated 150,000 Saharawi refugees live today in the camps, where it is nearly impossible to sustain basic life. Food, water, building materials, firewood and clothing are brought in by car and truck mainly by international aid agencies. But with ever growing refugee crisis around the world, aid to the Saharawi refugees is being substantially reduced or completely stopped. With lack of food, especially vegetables, fruit and nutritious food, many children and women suffer from severe to acute nutritional deficiencies. The camps are sometimes also hit by severe flash floods that destroy shelters usually consisting of tents and 'hard' mud brick houses. During the past decade, tents and mud brick structures are being gradually replaced by concrete block shelters. The Saharawi refugee population is more than 40 years later still fully dependent on external humanitarian aid, and with limited opportunities for self-reliance in the harsh desert environment it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

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