Also known as the last African colony, Western Sahara was formerly colonised by Spain and later invaded by Morocco in 1975. After a 16-year war between the latter and the national liberation movement (Polisario Front) half of the local population was forced to flee to SW Algeria, where they were allowed to establish the Saharawi state-in-exile in refugee camps.
The occupying power divided the territory by building the world’s largest military wall and refuses to relinquish its territorial claims while exploiting Western Sahara’s rich natural resources. Nowadays, Western Sahara is considered non self-governing territory, and the UN has been calling Morocco to stop its illegal occupation and to organise a referendum for self-determination to fullfil the decolonisation process.
Saharawis living under Moroccan rule have been suffering from ongoing human rights violations denounced by credited international organisations ever since the conflict started. Meanwhile, their culture and traditions have become a means for the Saharawis’ peaceful struggle and survival, both in the occupied territories and the refugee camps.
Click here for a chronological overview of the conflict.
The conflict in depth
Western Sahara is the subject of a territorial dispute between Morocco, which annexed the territory in 1975 and claims sovereignty there, and the Polisario Front, the national liberation movement representing the Saharawis, which calls for an independent state in the territory.
Currently, Western Sahara is divided politically, militarily, and geographically by a 2,700 km-long Moroccan-built defensive berm. About a fifth of the territory, lying east of the berm, is controlled by the Polisario Front.
The sixteen-year war that broke out in 1975, when Morocco and Mauritania jointly invaded Western Sahara upon Spain’s rapid exit from its former colony, is undoubtedly the single most important cause behind the large-scale displacement of the Saharawi population. Today, most of them are still refugees in the barren and remote desert of south-west Algeria. They live in camps run by the Polisario Front. The government-in-exile, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), also operates from the camps. Read more…