Isabel Lourenço – PUSL .- From 23 February to 12 March I was in the Saharawi refugee camps. I had been there several times before, always for work as well as this time. I hope I will never have to return to the refugee camps and that my next visit will be to a free and sovereign Western Sahara.
On my return people ask me to tell them how it was, they ask for photos and videos. It is understandable.
I arrived exhausted by the fact that the journey home was long and flights were delayed, waiting and rushing to avoid missing connections, but also because as always I return with very contradictory emotions.
Did you like the camps? They ask me here. Do you like the camps? They asked me there.
No, I don’t – is my answer. I cannot like refugee camps, it is impossible to like the mere idea of refugee camps because it implies the existence of refugees, of people who cannot be in their country and enjoy their homeland. I don’t particularly like the Sahrawi refugee camps because they exist only because of Morocco’s disrespect for international law which allows it to commit war crimes and continuous human rights violations in a territory it has invaded, and despite the fact that this action is illegal from all points of view, the international community has kept its mouth shut since 1975.
Then they ask me if I like the people, the Saharawi refugees. For the most part yes, I like the Saharawis with whom I have lived and who have had the immense humanity to share with me the little they have, to welcome me into their homes, to help me in my many tasks. Do I like them all? Of course not, nor do I have to like everyone, there are good and nice people and less nice people in all peoples.
Why do these questions annoy me?
Because the question is not whether people are good, beautiful, nice, whether their clothes are nice, whether the children have a beautiful smile, nor whether the tea ceremony is interesting.
The point is that they have a right to their country and they can in no way be forced to continue to live in the middle of an inhospitable desert with three mugs of water a day for washing, cooking, etc., constantly eating the dust of the sand and receiving minute aid from a basket that does not even cover the bare minimum of food security. This aid comes from the UNHCR, WFP, ECHO and other institutions that take up a large part of their budget to support themselves. And I cannot fail to mention that it was during Mr. Guterres’ time at the UNHCR that there were major cuts in aid. And since are talking about the elephant in the room, Mr. Guterres, now as UN Secretary General, continues to betray this people with his reports full of omissions about what’s happening on the ground, thus contributing to the impasse in the resolution, allowing Morocco to continue to massacre this people.
Now I will tell you not what I “liked”, but what I admire about the Saharawis and their state in exile SADR.
The absolutely exemplary organisation of all administrative and political aspects. The unparalleled ability to have a health system, an education system (which includes special education and university), an equal distribution of aid, an independent legal system, a television, radios, archives and libraries and everything you can imagine in a country, but with the serious restrictions of a state in exile and without access to the income of a state.
I admire their unique ability to receive and welcome those who visit them, overcoming difficulties without complaining and without making us see the difficulties they go through to welcome us. This is a positive aspect, but it can also be negative, since not everyone who visits them realises that what they feed us is not what they eat, and that the water we use is not the quantity they use, that the quantity of blankets we receive is not the same as the quantity they have, and I could go on and on.
The semi-permanent structure of the camps
The semi-permanent structure of the camps with “houses” made of adobe, cement blocks or bricks arises due to the long waiting time (since 1975) for their return to their homeland. Thanks to the help of the host country, Algeria, it has gradually been possible to gain access to electricity, a water distribution system and roads leading from one camp to another, a total of 5 and the administrative centre.
With emigration and families abroad, it has been possible to establish a local micro-economy, which is far from being able to make up for the shortages and create the necessary number of jobs.
And why this title?
The Saharawis are rich refugees because their country is rich, yet they have no access to their riches which are being exploited by the Moroccan occupier and several other countries, mostly European .
They are rich refugees because they have a rich but little known culture, due to the distance, the generalised media boycott of this people and the fact that they are a people of traditional oral transmission.
They are rich because they manage to multiply from nothing, with human failures, certainly like everywhere else where there is a human being, but nevertheless they have managed to build from nothing in the middle of the desert an administrative structure that is unimaginable and this during decades of war, bombings, mines and exile. The role and leadership of the Saharawi women has had and still has a fundamental importance in the way the camps are organised and they are without doubt the great driving force behind everything.
It is admirable what the human being is capable of. How human beings (in this case Moroccans) can destroy, kill, slaughter, rape, torture a people and this people (the Saharawis) can raise, build, care for, educate.
The wealth of this people is deeply rooted in their nomadic way of life, which due to the “evolution of the world” and “development” is now denied to them as to so many other nomadic peoples. The “westernisation” of the world is a factor of impoverishment and not of wealth; wealth comes from being able to resist the blind importation of values and to achieve a balance without ever forgetting one’s own history and traditions.