While the Algeria-Polisario tandem continues to refute the Moroccan Initiative relative to the granting of a larger autonomy to the Sahrawi populations, thousands of Moroccan Sahrawis that are sequestered in the Tindouf camps - south of Algeria, at a dozen kilometres from the Moroccan borders--, continue to live under inhuman conditions, wondering as they do about their predicament and aspiring to return to their mother-land after long years of uncertainty.
Awaiting a solution to these problems, this population continues to bear with the most grievous violations in camps that are fallaciously qualified as "camps for Sahrawi refugees." And confined as they are against their will in camps, the sequestered Sahrawis serve as a plea for the Polisario, which confers upon them the status of a ‘refugee' in order to give legitimacy to its so-called "cause". Moreover, they serve as hostages as well as means of pressure over Morocco and the International Community at large.
A multitude of reports which issue from those very camps in Tindouf take stock of the serious violations in the area of Human rights that are continually perpetrated there. These violations range from the smothering of the freedom of expression and gathering all the way to forbidding all types of communication among the sequestered populations, in addition to blockading the access of humanitarian organisations to these camps.
On the other hand, several reports from non-governmental organisations, coupled with many testimonials presented by repatriated Sahrawis, testify to the exactions as well as inhuman practices to which the populations are subject in these camps on a daily basis. Of these violations, the following are in order:
The existence of an extremely severe surveillance system: The populations are subject to some very close surveillance on the part of political delegates, who foster the ill-spirit of denouncement in order to set in a climate of distrust among the populations. Such a climate is also preserved through the constant presence of the armed factions of the Polisario.
The limitations imposed on the humanitarian organisations' room for manoeuvre: Foreigners are subject in theTindouf camps to some tight surveillance on the part of the security forces of the Polisario as well as the secret services of the Algerian army. The separatists intervene within this framework under the pretext that this comes within the framework of what they call "national security."
The upholding of social disparities within the camps: The Polisario leadership has put in place a system of nepotism and favouritism with a view to keeping up the dependency of the population vis-à-vis the leaders. Thus, all the inhabitants are somehow compelled to seek favours from their chiefs, their objective being to have access to certain advantages -which are in reality nothing short of basic rights-such as the possibility of leaving the camp for purposes of medical treatment abroad, or in order to pursue one's studies. Hence, the populations are polarized into two markedly distinct categories: one that is closer to those that hold the powers and therefore enjoys a comparatively more decent standard of living; and the other one - which represents the majority of the populations-lives under extremely precarious conditions. It is in point of fact this latter category that we deem to be the real victim of the ambitions of the Polisario leaders and their Algerian guardians.
The embezzlement of funds granted by humanitarian organisations: Several reports by international authorities and organisations, in addition to many reports established by international media, confirm the existence of a large network for the embezzlement of humanitarian aid-which comes from humanitarian organisations as well as from donor-States- earmarked for the populations in the Tindouf camps. The fact of the matter is that some quite important quantities of foodstuffs, medication as well as other products have been embezzled in the direction of the Algerian, Mauritanian and Nigerian markets. This situation has pushed a number of humanitarian organisations to establish a link between the embezzlement of aid and deteriorating health conditions in the camps. In the same vein, numerous are the reports issued by humanitarian organisations that affirm that over 30% of children between 5 and 12 years of age suffer from malnutrition, and that over 70% of children under the age of 5 show symptoms of anaemia.
It is worth highlighting also the fact that these embezzlements of humanitarian aid are encouraged by the lack of exact and transparent statistics of the populations of the Tindouf camps. Besides, these embezzlements take advantage of the gap between the exact number of "Sahrawi refugees" who are confined in the Tindouf camps, and the figures which are officially declared, and on the basis of which the volume of required aid is estimated.
In its turn, the HCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) has time and again expressed its doubts about the exactitude (and therefore veracity) of the figures declared by Algeria, which claims that the number of sequestered borders around 165 thousand individuals. The veracity of this figure has also been thrown into doubt by Morocco, which affirms that this figure does not exceed half of the figure quoted by their host country. The fact is that an estimation that corresponds to that of several independent humanitarian organisations confirms that the exact number of these populations stands between 70 and 90 thousand individuals.
Nevertheless, and despite the doubts expressed by the HCR, and the request made by Morocco to proceed to a census of the populations of the camps, Algeria - in view of its quality as the host of these so-called "refugees" - continues to employ to the greatest possible advantage these figures and, by the same token, preclude the HCR from undertaking a general census in the Tindouf camps.
Sahrawi children remain caught between forced exile and the destruction of identity: The Polisario Front has proceeded with the abduction as well as the dispatching, as it were, of the children that were born in the Tindoufcamps, notably to Cuba, under the pretext of holiday-making or the pursuit of studies. Statistics in fact maintain that around 6000 Sahrawi children and adolescents live in Cuba. These children were severed away from their families, by force and without the consent of their parents. Hence, it is obvious that this operation is doubly motivated; it seeks to indoctrinate these children and to subject them to military training, all the while using them as means of blackmail that would oblige their parents to stay on camp.
Numerous reports confirm this fact. They also declare that a great majority of these children are held captive by Cuban mafia gangs, which exploit them as workers in sugar and tobacco plantations. The girls in turn are destined to the world of prostitution. A situation such as this has raised a great polemic around the immoral character of the Polisario practices, as witnessed, inter alia, in throwing children into exile for long periods of time, not to say indefinitely, away from their own ones.
The outcome of the dramatic situation in the Tindouf camps was the break out of numerous uprisings as well as the staging of several violent demonstrations, all in response to the totalitarianism, the oppression and exclusion that the Polisario manifested against the Sahrawi populations. The claims that the protesters made centred on the following:
The cessation of all the abusive arrests and arbitrary judgements practiced by the Polisario command;
The lifting off of the embargo imposed on these camps by the Polisario militias and the secret services of the Algerian army;
The necessity to find, and urgently so, a solution to the suffering of the dozens of thousands of individuals in sequestration in Tindouf;
The denunciation of the systematic destruction of the identity and the forced exile of thousands of Sahrawi children in Cuba and Spain;
The termination of the systematic manipulation of their situation of "Sahrawi refugees" in order to embezzle humanitarian aid for the express purpose of the personal enrichment of the Polisario leaders as well as their accomplices in the Algerian military command.
In the face of the scope and the multiplication of the demonstrations as well as the protest movements within the camps, the Polisario leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz, called for a "severe policy against the demonstrators." His call was translated on the ground by a violent repression led by the Polisario militias, under the supervision of the secret services of the Algerian army. The repression, which was exceptionally violent, was accompanied by a total embargo over the camps, an extensive surveillance of borders, the forbiddance of all circulation of goods and persons between the camps; nay, the interdiction of all types of communication within these same camps.
Nevertheless, and despite the isolation that the camps are thrown in, the reports released by humanitarian and international organisations, coupled with the testimonials made by the individuals who could make it back to their mother-land, testify to the fact that the repressive operations led by the Polisario, under the supervision of its guardians, have provoked hundreds of deaths and thousands of injured and mutilated individuals.
Obviously, and taking into consideration the growth in number of demonstrations within the camps of Tindouf, it appears that the domination exerted by the Polisario is in the decline phase, above all after the communist bloc had been dismantled and support from the "friendly" countries had dwindled. Such a weakened state is also due to the extinction of the ideological fervour that the youth, in particular, animated the camps with. In fact, in a declaration to the Spanish newspaper "Levante", dated January 8, 2007, Khadija Hamdi --wife of Mohamed Abdelaziz- stated that the young Sahrawis "have begun to grow tired of struggle in and life at the camps."
In sum, the inevitable degeneration of the Polisario would have to be the result of the criminal practices of its leaders, practices which could only engender the revolt of a population whose condition has been manipulated for over three decades with a view to legitimising some illegitimate and vague desires.
This fact is, moreover, confirmed by the birth of a dissident movement, which not only denounces the exactions committed by the Polisario leaders, but equally contests their legitimacy, and puts into question the representativeness of the Sahrawi populations which it claims to guarantee.
"The Khat Achahid Polisario" (lit. the Polisario line of martyr), as it is called, is one such dissident movement. It was founded in the year 2004 by some fifteen Sahrawis established in Spain, and counts among its members Mahjoub Salek, one of the founders of the Polisario.
As it had great popularity among the Sahrawi population in sequestration in the camps of Tindouf, Khat Achahid came to assert itself as being the legitimate representative of this population. It not only denounces the exactions committed by the Polisario leaders, and the criminal practices of which they are guilty- notably as concerns the embezzlement of food aid and other forms of trafficking-, but it also manifests some real willingness to put an end to the crisis, with all the humanitarian drama that this crisis has engendered.
Within the framework of a press conference, held on August 8, 2007, in Madrid, Mr Mahjoub Salek-the Khat Achahidspokesman- declared that the dissident movement was ready to start talks with Morocco on the basis of "an autonomy within the framework of self-determination." Dialogue remains to be "the unique path towards the resolution of the Sahara conflict," he declared, accusing the Polisario leaders, by the same gesture, of "deliberately dragging" the conflict at the detriment of the Sharawis who live in sequestration in Tindouf.
By the same occasion, a call was addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, inviting him to consult with the members of Khat Achahid as "principal actors who represent an important part of the Sahrawi public opinion within the camps as well as abroad."
In view of the grievous Human rights violations, which are perpetrated by the Polisario against dozens of thousands of Sahrawis in sequestration in the so-called "refugee camps" -which are established on Algerian soil--, it is appropriate to declare that it is high time for the International Community to mobilise. The International bodies in charge of Human rights as well as humanitarian organisations are called upon to break down the wall of silence that the Polisario leaders and the secret services of the Algerian military have erected around the Tindouf camps. Algeria, in turn, ought not to be cleared of its legal and moral responsibility for the violations and abuses that are perpetrated upon its very own territory, with the close supervision of its own security services.
The International community is thus called upon to assume its full responsibility, and to make it such that the Sahrawi populations in sequestration in the Tindouf camps procure documents that testify to their identity, and that allow them to cross borders in all freedom. Only this way will they be able to exercise their right to decide to regain Morocco, their mother-land; or to stay in the camps of Tindouf, which is all in keeping with what is stipulated by the international conventions and pacts relative to Human rights.
Moreover, the position of Khat Achahid ought to urge the International Community to inquire further about the legitimacy of the Polisario as well as about the motivations of its Algerian generator for wanting to keep up a situation that threatens international peace and security.
Said Cherif and Nabil Lamrani