But regardless of their lamentable situation, Saharawi people are well known because of their strength and capability against adversity.
A couple of months ago, when I was researching about the current situation of the Western Sahara conflict, I got to meet Asria, an example of this surmounting characters.
Asria Mohamed Taleb was born in the 27th of February Camp in Tindouf, Algeria.
She studied journalism and communication at Alarbi ben Mheidy University in Algeria.
She has worked for several years in the Saharawi National Radio and Television
as a radio programme presenter and producer. She is also an executive member
of the board of Saharawi Youth Organisation since four years ago. Thanks to her hope and vehemence, Asria moved to Norway in 2010 as part of the Peace Corps programme where she stayed for a year as a teacher of Arabic language at the Red Cross Nordic United World College in Fjaler in Sunnfjord. She is currently working as a dialoguer with Médecins Sans Frontières in Bergen.
“I have never seen Western Sahara. As thousands of people from my generation, I was born in one of the most isolated places in the world: the refugee camps in the Algerian hammada, one of the harshest areas in the Sahara desert. Since we were children we dreamt of going home, study there and live in our own country free of the Moroccan repression. I am 25 years old and this dream is still far from becoming real”, explained me Asria while interviewing her.
As many other Saharawi, Asria left the refugee camps to go to University in Algeria.
“I had to leave my family, as hundreds of kids in my age, to go to the University in Algeria. Many others also go to Libya, Spain or Cuba. We had to take care of ourselves when we still needed our parents with us. We felt sad and alone when other Algerian students could celebrate their birthdays, holidays or just gathered with their families, while we had to stay inside the school the whole year. The conditions were harsh for us as kids. But we realized the importance of our issue as we will be the generation who will fight for free Sahara.” Her oldest brother studied in Cuba and now he lives in Spain, where her youngest one lives too. “My youngest brother lived his whole life with a Spanish family. He had a disease and he had to move abroad, as we could not provide him the good conditions and medicines he needed in the camps. It was very sad, specially for my mom and for me, but we had no choice,”told me Asria.
Asria left the camps definitely in 2010, when she was accepted in an exchange cultural program between Norway and the refugee camps.
“There are few young women like me who have chance to go out of the camps, that is why I feel responsible. I have experienced the life in the refugee camps, and as a journalist I should make others aware of our conflict, not only in Norway but all over the world. We need to be given voice, we need support.”
Asria explained me that family is a very valuable concept for Saharawis, more than in some other cultures. However, if people suffer from a certain kind of illness that can not be treated in the camps, or they want to have a Higher Education, they may leave the camps to seek for a better live.
It is not easy since many Saharawis do not have a passport, some of them have Algerian nationality, others Spanish – as the territory is a former Spanish colony –, the ones in the occupied territory have Moroccan, some are considered stateless... That situation only makes everything more complicated, despite the zest of the organizations that try to help Saharawi people.
Most of the economy in Western Sahara relies on foreign humanitarian aid and NGOs. Many researches show that there is a high level of malnutrition in the refugee camps, specially among children and women, that are the most vulnerable.
The territory is also highly exposed to natural hazards.
“The weather is really harsh in the Hamada, it reaches 55 degrees in summer and below 0 in winter, and the only shelter people have are their tents. What scared me the most were the sand wind and unexpected rain that could destroy our houses and all our belongings in minutes”, told Asria.
She explained how people, specially the young, are more and more frustrated after so many years of conflict. “The UN seems to have failed to solve this issue and emptiness and long waiting are becoming our main enemies; they are killing our dreams and wishes while our Saharawi brothers in Morocco are killed, tortured, detained and plundered. Ours is a forgotten conflict, but I hope that one day we we will finally rise our voice loud enough and be heard. Maybe then the international community will exercise its responsibility to guarantee our fundamental rights.”
Located in an Arab World in a current turmoil, it is possible that some of these winds of change will blow towards Western Sahara one day soon.
By Ana Isabel Martinez Molina