This is the story of a people who have lost their lands. Not that loosing your lands is an original thing, from a historian’s perspective; history is built on the loss of territory. It may not be original but it’s a fact, a fact that many in the self-absorbed international community tend to ignore. And want to ignore.
This land is stuck between Mauritania, Morocco and the Atlantic Ocean – this huge, uneven rectangle which appears greyish and anonymous on many maps, and is called Western Sahara. It once was the property of Spain, then of Morocco, when all the time it should have been the people’s property.
It sounds simple but it’s not.
The Sahrawis – the original settlers, those who own this part of the desert and the coasts where the sea is known to be plentiful of fish – have tried to reclaim their lands for 35 years; enough time to give birth to two generations of Sahrawis. None of these children have been born in a normal environment. Half were born in the refugee camps outside of Tindouf, in Southern Algeria. The other half lives under Moroccan occupation, on what the Sahrawis call “the occupied territories” – an expression which of course draws a parallel with another, famous, territory loss.
200.000 people live there. Together, they’re as big as a city. But can you call a place a city just because a lot of people happen to live there? If there’s no infrastructure at all, what do you call it? Oh yes, a camp. So, the camps. Their streets are empty, their air thick with sand and dust (newcomers cough all the time). The light is overwhelming and the colors, at dusk, well, it’s impossible to try and describe them with plain words. Herds of goats populate the outskirts of the city; children walk on the streets on their own. They always ask for something: a candy, caramelo. “Give me a caramelo.”
Pictures and words by Rick Roels.