Rabat- The Tindouf camps are increasingly becoming Fertile Ground for Terrorism and Embezzlement of Humanitarian Aid.

Saharawis living in the Tindouf camps controlled by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front are systematically denied the basic human rights of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. They are prevented from moving freely between the camps and are prohibited from leaving Tindouf without the express permission of the Polisario leadership.

The Saharawis are housed in five separate camps in Toudouf, each a ta distance of between 30km and 172 km. Husbands, wives, and siblings are separated. Children are often removed from their parents’ care within the camps and then sent to Cuba for many years. While in Cuba, they lose contact with their families, and are often exploited and put to work in domestic service, factories, and agriculture, and subjected to military training. At the camps, women and the elderly are compelled to carry out forced manual labour in extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter.

The camp system is cruel; penalties and intimidation are used to keep control and ensure conformity with the Polisario’s edicts. Dissent is publically punished, and torture and imprisonment are commonplace. Children are forced to watch the public punishment of their parents.

Many Saharawis would like to leave Tindouf, but cannot.Those who express such a desire openly soon find that their family members have been moved to other camps and/or their children sent to Cuba. This effectively ensures that they remain in the camps, as hostages, and that they continue to comply with the Polisario’s regime and dictates, while waiting and hoping to be re-united with their spouses and/or children.

Some Saharawi refugees have managed to escape from the camps and have described the hardships and cruelty which exists in the camps. They attest to the corruption of the Polisario leadership and its misuse of the international humanitarian financial and material assistance received for the benefit of the refugees.

Much of the food and medicine donated by NGOs to benefit the refugees, for example, does not reach the refugees, but instead is sold in the markets of North African countries such as Mali, Mauritania,and Algeria, to raise money for the Polisario to purchase weapons and ammunition.

Hans R. Wittewer, the Representative of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRCC), said “funds destined for the Sahraoui program, in the form of advances coming from the World Food Program and the European Union, which were earmarked to cover the cost of transportation and custom’s duties, have instead been used to purchase airline tickets for travel abroad by the Polisario leadership.”

According to the latest report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its offshoots in the Sahel are already working to expand their partnership with smugglers from the massive refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, and to enlist recruits among the disenchanted youth there. If Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb strengthened its alliance of convenience with the Polisario, a formidable terrorist organization could emerge.”

The latest report from the International Center for Terrorism Studies (ICTS), an office within the US think tank The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, called for dismantling the Polisario militias and the release of the population detained in the Tindouf camps, which have become a “breeding ground” for al-Qaeda recruiters and traffickers of all kinds.

ICTS director, Yonah Alexander, urged the international community to take “a census of the populations of the Tindouf camps,” considered a “threat to regional security and a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists and drug traffickers.”

Today, history offers a golden opportunity for the Polisario to accept the only solution possible, indeed the best one in many people’s view, of political autonomy under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco.

If the Polisario leaders have the slightest bit of compassion or respect for the Sahraouis, they should readily seize this historic opportunity to avoid being trapped in the present circumstances and not be a thorn in the side of the Kingdom of Morocco to others to obtain political hegemony.