Why Sahrawi refugees are denied the right of return?

 Sahrawi activist and Polisario critic Mustafa Salma has written a letter to the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler during his visit in the region.

After fiery criticism and condemnation of Algeria and Polisario, Salma’s subdued letter aims to sensitize Köhler to the worrying situation that Sahrawis are experiencing in the Tindouf camps due to Algeria’s interest in prolonging the conflict. Salma asked Köhler, who began visiting the Tindouf area Thursday, to listen not only to the Polisario, but also to other Sahrawis.

Salma posted his letter on Facebook. The activist, who also served as a police chief in the Tindouf camps in southern Algeria, explained the unbearable situation that Sahrawis are encountering.

The Sahrawi activist expressed disappointment in the prolongation of the conflict. “We Sahrawi people, are paying the price for the delayed development of our region, the suffering of our scattered families, and the difficult conditions in which tens of thousands of us are living in camps in Algeria.”

Salma who has been criticizing Algeria and Polisario since 2011, regretted that Polisario is the only group recognized as representing the Sahrawis.

With condemnation, the activist said that the separatist front gets its blessing from one side only: Algeria.

“As for Polisario, which claims to represent us, it has nothing but the support of its sponsor Algeria, which has an interest in the continuity of the conflict.

Algeria has an interest in the conflict continuing

While Sahrawis are suffering a scorching situation in the Polisario-run Tindouf camps, Algeria, according to Salma, is the main beneficiary of this situation.

Subsequently, the activist recognized that as long as Algeria shrinks from its responsibility to contribute to the UN-led political process, the situation will remain the same.

For Salma, “it does not take much perception to understand that this situation will not lead to a compromise between the Sahrawis and Morocco, as long as Algeria claims to have nothing to do with the conflict over the Sahara.”

For decades, Algeria has denied that it forms a main part in the conflict, rejecting Morocco’s and the UN’s requests to contribute to finding a mutually acceptable solution to end the conflict over Western Sahara.

Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdelkader Messahel and his Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia denied that Algeria is abdicating its responsibility in the conflict several times during interviews and at international conferences.

Algeria, however, was embarrassed when an Algerian military airplane dramatically crashed on April 11, claiming the lives of more than 200 people, including members of the Polisario.

The incident came only a few weeks after Messahel denied his country’s responsibility in the conflict.

“I do not need to prove that there is no dissenting voice in the Sahara camps against Algeria’s interests and its vision of the solution,” Salma said.

Salma condemned Polisario’s move to keep him separated from his family for more than eight years “because of a mere press statement in which I said that autonomy is the closet realistic solution to the Sahara conflict.”

Polisario’s repression

In his message, Salma denounced the absence of an opposition in the Tindouf camps and said the “imposition” of the separatist group “as the sole representative of the Sahrawis is yet another proof that we have no opinion in the camps.”

He added that Sahrawis, who sought to defend their rights through the Sahrawi National Initiative for Change, are “subjected to much pressure to prevent them from their activity in the camps, which will force them, like their predecessors, to move their project abroad, away from the Sahrawis.”

Not on my behalf

Throughout his letter, the personal envoy reminded the UN and its personal envoy that Polisario does not represent all Sahrawis.

“You and everyone who sees the Polisario Front as the sole representative and speaker in the name of the Sahrawis are wrong and are contradicting the principles of human rights that respect and give the opportunity to all opinions without discrimination.”

According to the activist, the front is not trustworthy enough to tackle the issues of the Sahrawis living in camps.

Like in a previous post, Salma recalled the death of two Sahrawis in “mysterious circumstances in the D’Heibya prison, which is run by the security services of the Front.”

Polisario, Sahrawis’ decision monopolizer
The activist said that the separatist front has been monopolizing Sahrawis’ decisions and “harassing” opposition parties in the camps.

Salma also recognized that the front embezzles humanitarian aid from the international community meant for Sahrawis, claiming that the leaders of the Polisario are involved in “corruption related to enjoying international organizations’ aid at the expense of Sahrawi refugees.”

Polisario cannot be a “trustworthy partner and patron of the Sahrawi’s interests in the political process that you are running in the name of international community,” Salma told Köhler.

He added that the aim of his letter is not to exclude “the Polisario Front as a movement in the Sahara. However, we demand our right to political participation and to express our opinion on ways to determine our fate and to end the suffering of our people for decades.”

Concluding his letter, Salma invited the Personal Envoy to engage the Sahrawis living outside and inside the camps in the political process. For Salma this option “would eventually lead to a settlement of the conflict.”

He also believe that Sahrawis’ “contribution will inevitably provide a great service for peace and international security, and will save the effort of international organizations and their resources spent on the Sahara conflict.”