Western Sahara’s 50-year struggle for independence

Western Sahara’s 50-year struggle for independence

By Ali Rıza Taşdelen

Between May 1-5, 2024, we spent four days at the Polisario Front’s Boujdour Refugee Camp on Algerian soil, near the Western Sahara border. As representatives of Aydınlık newspaper and Ulusal Kanal from Türkiye, we attended the meeting organized by the Sahrawi Journalists Union with the theme “A Media Perspective on the Western Sahara Issue and Developments”. Journalists from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland were invited to the meeting. Around 20 Algerian newspapers, radio and television journalists also participated in the meeting.

The forgotten people of Western Sahara

Western Sahara: The land of the Sahrawi people, a name without a country. 85% of it has been under Moroccan occupation for 50 years. Nearly 3 million Sahrawis live in the occupied territory. 185,000 of them are in five refugee camps under the administration of the Polisario Front, located around the city of Tindouf on the border of Algeria’s Western Sahara. The camps are situated in the middle of the desert, where temperatures reach 50 degrees in the summer. No trees or vegetation is in sight. The people live in tents or makeshift houses made of mud bricks and concrete blocks. Algeria provides electricity and water and they have built roads in an area of 6,000 square kilometers to connect the camps. Only primary and secondary schools exist in the camps. Only one of them has a high school and a health center.

We are talking about a people who have been resisting occupation for 50 years. And for 50 years, they have been living in miserable and primitive conditions in refugee camps on Algerian soil.

We were guests to refugees’ homes

Upon our arrival at the camp, all guests were assigned to refugee homes for accommodation. We stayed as guests for three nights, sharing breakfast, lunch and dinner with our hosts. We tasted camel meat for the first time. After each meal, we enjoyed the meticulously prepared minty green tea, leaving a lingering taste in the mouth. We stayed with two Algerian journalists.

The meeting began at 9 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m., as it was challenging to stay outside in the desert heat. The afternoon session started at 3 p.m. and concluded at 10 p.m. Daily life and dresses here adapted itself to the extreme heat.

The Polisario Front and the Sahrawi State

In recent times, the Sahrawi people were left to fend for themselves. Without Algeria’s support, they would vanish. However, they have not lost hope and continue to live for the independence of their country. Established in 1973, the Polisario Front initially waged armed struggle against Spanish colonialism and then against the occupation of Morocco and Mauritania. After Spain withdrew in 1975, Western Sahara was divided between Morocco and Mauritania. Following Spain’s withdrawal, the Polisario Front declared the establishment of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on February 27, 1976. Mauritania reached an agreement with the SADR and withdrew from the region in 1979. Subsequently, Morocco occupied 85% of the country. Displaced by the war, the Sahrawis sought refuge in the current refugee camps.

“I am coming from the land of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk”

President of the Sahrawi Journalists Union, Writer Nafi Ahmed Mohamed, delivered the opening speech of the meeting. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Foreign Minister Mohamed Sidati, Education Minister, Information Minister, members of the Polisario political bureau, professors, journalists, writers from various countries, representatives of the Polisario Front from the occupied regions of Morocco, and soldiers from the military front participated and delivered speeches during two days.

As a Turkish journalist representing Aydınlık newspaper, I also delivered a speech. I was deeply moved. I was coming from a country that had experienced occupation and, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, had resisted imperialism and gained independence. I expressed these sentiments and assured them that the Sahrawi people would achieve victory against the US, Israel and France, who support Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. I also added that we stand in solidarity with them. I promised to introduce the Sahrawi people’s struggle for independence to the Turkish public.

The purpose of the meeting was to shed light on the situation of the Sahrawi people, the life in the camps and the Polisario Front’s struggle against the Moroccan occupation. We were called upon to tell the struggle of this forgotten people to the public in our respective countries.

Solidarity of journalists with the Sahrawi people

During his closing speech, the President of the Writers and Journalists Union, Nafi Ahmed Mohamed, stated that they organized this meeting “to accompany the media efforts of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and to strengthen support efforts at all levels”. Nafi said: “One of our goals is to document the current situation and to send journalists and media professionals to the refugee camps, liberated areas and the occupied territories of Western Sahara to convey the voice, image, and stories of the Sahrawi people to the world”. He also did not forget to remind the audience of the sacrifices of Palestinian journalists who were martyred due to the “Zionist attack on Gaza”.

At the end of the conference, Algerian, Cuban and Sahrawi press agencies decided to unite their efforts globally to form an international media federation. And the final declaration, which was read and applauded in Arabic, French, and Spanish, was unanimously accepted. The statement emphasized the goal of resisting the influence of Moroccan lobbies and their supporters, establishing an international network for monitoring developments related to the Sahrawi issue, ensuring the dissemination of accurate information, and exposing and thwarting Morocco’s plans to mislead public opinion.

Throughout the conference, Turkish journalists received significant attention. Nearly 10 Algerian television, radio, and newspaper correspondents conducted interviews with me and my friends. They also added us to a WhatsApp group consisting of journalists supporting the Sahrawi people worldwide and introduced us to the leaders of the Polisario Front.

President Ghali: “We are at war”

On the third and final day, they took us to the Avserd camp for “International Western Sahara Film Festival”. We watched local dances performed by men, women and children in colorful attire.

We were excited to hear that the President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Ibrahim Gali, would attend the festival and make statements to the international press. I had the chance to meet the President in the press conference room. When I told him that I was a Turkish journalist and expressed my solidarity with the Sahrawi people, he was very pleased and thanked me. Then we attended the press conference.

In the press conference, President Gali stated, “We are now at war, and we will continue. As Africans, we used to believe that Europe represented law, justice and values. We won’t fall into the same trap again. (…) As a people’s front and a republic, we are ready to end the conflict, engage in unconditional negotiations on the foundations provided by the international community to regain our rights. Our struggle is for liberation from colonialism.”

We left the Camp with a renewed inspiration of struggle together with new friends.

United World International

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June 2024