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Article from Rød + Grøn, magazine of the Danish party The Red Green Alliance.
More than 165,000 exiles live in refugee camps near the border of Western Sahara. Morocco has illegally occupied the country and built a wall that separates the original inhabitants, the Saharawi's, from the abundant fishing banks that Morocco wish to exploit themselves. Rød + Grøn have spoken to Abba from Polisario who desires a free Western Sahara.
2700 kilometres of wall separates Western Sahara from Nord to South. The wall is built by Morocco to enable the exploitation of the areas fishing banks and natural resources.
Over 5 million mines have been scattered around the wall – more than in the whole of Kosovo, says Abba Malainin, Polisario’s representative in Denmark. He has just returned from a visit to the refugee camps near the Algerian border where a large part of Western Sahara’s population has lived in exile for over 30 years.
An exile state in the dessert
The refugees live in the camps because they want a free Western Sahara. In this corner of Algeria, Polisario run a kind of exile state with e.g. schools and ministries. About 40.000 people live in tents and under aluminium-roofed shacks in each of the large camps – in temperatures of over 50 degrees. The area is often described as ‘the dessert of the dessert’, Abba explains, and the refugees are totally dependent upon the scarce food aid that the UN supplies.
Empty promises of a referendum
There has been a ceasefire in Western Sahara since 1991, and Polisario is trying by peaceful means to press for a referendum that is to end the Moroccan occupation. But the FN-forces that were deployed in 1991 to ensure that such a referendum took place have not been able to do so because of Moroccan noncompliance. Morocco is able to dodge the issue of the referendum because especially Spain and France have political and economical interests in Western Sahara, especially in regards to the illegal fisheries. The situation in the camps is tense due to the long and fruitful wait for progress. ‘Especially the youth are tired of the empty promises of the UN. They have had enough. There has been talk of taking up arms again because they believe that this is the only way to make Morocco listen’, Abba explains.
The people in Western Sahara, who call for the end to the occupation of their country, risk disappearing, torture or imprisonment. Additionally, the original inhabitants, the Saharawi’s, are not able to travel freely within their own country. Regardless of this, there are demonstrations on an almost daily basis against the occupation with both Saharawi’s and foreign activists taking part. Recently, one such demonstration nearly caused a diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco because the Moroccan police beat up several Spanish activists.
The most important means of pressure is presently a fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco that is up for renegotiation. The waters off the shores of Western Sahara must be excluded from this agreement so that the occupation is not as profitable as it is presently for Morocco and EU-countries such as Spain. The Red-Green Alliance supports this cause, amongst other things by taking up the question of Western Sahara in the Danish parliament and through a fisheries campaign.
‘It is the Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party, and the Red Green Alliance that raise issues regarding Western Sahara in the Danish parliament, and I am very grateful for this’, says Abba, who also emphasizes his good relationship to the Danish solidarity organisation Africa Contact. Finally, he invites everyone to participate in an international Western Sahara solidarity conference in October.