Firstly, the issue of homelessness. If you consider homelessness not
just as not having a roof over your head but as not having someone safe to
call your own and feel you belong, then most of the Sahrawis are homeless.
half of them live in refugee camps in Algeria where their families
fled after Morocco and Mauritania invaded thirty years ago.
the people in the camps are very well organised - you have to be
to survive in such desert conditions - they all want to return
to their homeland and live freely.
more Sahrawis live as exiles in Mauritania and in a number of European
countries. They too want to go home but fear going back to live
under control of the Moroccan army and police.
Sahrawis who live under Moroccan rule may be living in their homeland
but do not consider themselves free because they have never been
allowed to choose whether they want their own government or not.
thousand nomads (goat and camel herders) do manage to live quite
freely in an area of the Western Sahara that Morocco does not control
but even they still suffer because they have relatives stuck in
areas controlled by Morocco. Also they have to be very careful
because of the danger of landmines left over from the years of
fighting. I have met many Sahrawis who have been injured - often
as children - by landmines.
© Julio Etchart
visited the area of the Western Sahara controlled by the Moroccans
on a number of occasions and spent much time with very brave Sahrawis
who organise protests against the Moroccan authorities. Many of
these people have been in prison because of their activities. Some
have been treated very cruelly in prison. Often they were put in
prison without ever being taken to court. Others have seen members
of their families taken away by soldiers never to return.
Sahrawis living under Moroccan control feel they are treated very
badly, not just picked on by the army and secret police but also
not given jobs or other opportunities. But mostly what they say
is that they just want the chance to decide who will run their
country, a government of their own people or the Moroccans.
refugees in Algeria who face great hardship living in summer heat
you can scarcely imagine, also see freedom to choose their government,
use their own language and live in their own way as their greatest
many years, the Sahrawis did fight, first against the Spanish who
used to rule Western Sahara until 1975, then against Morocco and
Mauritania. In fact, they defeated the Mauritanians. By 1991 the
war had come to a stalemate - neither side feeling it was winning
- and a ceasefire was organised by the United Nations.
intention was that this should be followed by a vote on who would
rule the Western Sahara but that has never happened because Morocco
has prevented it.
is a small danger that fighting will start again with weapons but
for now the main struggle of the Sahrawis is by men, women and
children living under Moroccan rule going out and demonstrating
and proving to the world that they are there and have their ambitions
for the future.