Before starting the trip, let’s briefly review the history of the Western Sahara to put us in context.
First, for centuries the inhabitants of the Sahara have been nomads, who moved through the desert on more or less regular routes in search of food and water. These people knew no borders or any power above them. It was in the 15th century that the first contacts between the Saharawi population and the Europeans took place. Although the latter did not show much interest in the African continent until the 19th century and simply occupied coastal areas.
Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century Europeans divided the African continent. Spain received the territory known today as the Western Sahara. Although due to the resistance of the Saharawis, the control of this area was not made until years later. In 1934, and after constant rebellions against the colonial power, France threatened to Spain with the occupation of the territories if it did not take control over them. This threat led to a Franco-Spanish military cooperation to destroy the anticolonial resistance movement. This made possible the exploitation of the wealth and the control of the Saharawi people by the Spanish colonial power.
During the 1950s and 1960s the process of the decolonization of Asia and Africa began,and a new stage in the history of Western Sahara started too. In 1965 the UN proclaimed the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people and urged Spain to expedite its decolonization. At the beginning of the 70s Spain decided to make a referendum of self-determination and began to make a census of the population of the Western Sahara. Referendum that was never held.
Years before, the king of Morocco had already expressed his intention of annexation to the territories of the Western Sahara. Mauritania, too, seeing the situation, rushed to ask for part of the territory of the Sahara too. Due to UN pressures to abandon the territories, the international pressures to avoid a conflict with Morocco and the situation that was lived in the Spanish territory with the end of the Franco dictatorship, Spain abandoned the Western Sahara and it’s people, and they were left to fend for themselves.
With this situation Hassan II, king of Morocco, invaded the Saharawi territory in the so-called Green March, with 350,000 men and women plus 25,000 soldiers. In addition, Spain signed the Tripartite Agreements by which the territories of the Western Sahara were handed over to Morocco and Mauritania. In this situation the Frente POLISARIO was created, a national liberation movement that would lead the struggling situatuin on the popular, military, political and diplomatic level.
Finally with the invasion of Morocco began the war. Part of the Saharawi population fled to Algeria where the Refugee Camps were created, while the rest of the population remained under Moroccan repression. In addition, Morocco built a large defensive wall dividing the Sahara in two. After 3 years of conflict the UN elaborated a Peace Plan that included a referendum of self-determination. The Peace Plan was accepted by all parties involved. Despite this, the referendum was never held and the Saharawi population continues to live divided by a wall. Part of them in the Refugee Camps and the other part under the Moroccan oppression. Today, the situation has not changed and the people living in the camps are totally dependent on humanitarian help.
In Spain a feeling of solidarity with the Saharawis has been maintained during the decades. Year after year the Holidays in Peace are celebrated, giving the possibility to the Sahawi children to spend the summer in Spanish territory. Thus avoiding the harsh conditions that occur in this time in the desert. In addition, numerous Sahrawis have been adopted by Spanish families giving them a new opportunity in life. Although this kind of help is being restricted continuously, making it very difficult to help the people, whose situation we are responsible.
Trips to the Camps are organized every year to send them help and to get to know the history of Western Sahara. I was lucky enough to go to one of these trips. During a week we lived with a Saharawi family, visited the camps and claimed their rights against the wall that separates them from their land and their people. At that moment I was not aware of the effect that that experience will have on me.
Here is a video I used to watch the days before this new adventure started.