Supply of drugs and medical consumables to the Saharawi Refugees

Western Sahara: A Negligible Amount?

The Sahrawi people have, in fact, done everything correctly in their struggle to achieve an independent Western Sahara. They embraced their war of independence in 1969, when the anti-colonial movements reached their historic climax. The moment had come for the Sahrawis and the Polisario Front, the Spanish abbreviation of "Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguia el Hamra y Río de Oro", which was founded by Sahrawi students, who in May, 1968 not only attended Moroccan universities, but also populated the Latin quarter of Paris. They transformed European Marxism into the reality of the Sahrawi feudal society: first and foremost, tribalism along with its traditional tribal society was to be abolished. The Polisario Front positioned themselves as anti-colonial and socialists, and thus the movement began. Following thereafter, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was founded in 1976. That was and remains to this day; however, this is a republic made of stateless persons that houses in refugee camps near Tindouf in the Algerian desert, which is inhabited by 165,000 people. medico has been supporting these refugees and strengthening the self-governing bodies in these camps as part of an international aid program since winter 1976 when it all began. At the same time, we are striving to raise public awareness of the needs of the Sahrawis.


The Spanish colonization of Western Sahara in 1884 was, in fact, sealed in Germany. At the Berlin-African conference in which the old European colonial powers established their mandates and areas of influence, Spain secured the coast of Western Sahara. With this colonization began the resistance. In 1934, General Franco defeated the Sahrawi tribes together with France, and then continued on to Madrid for the coup.

The modern Sahrawi war of independence began as a political campaign. Following the assassination of their charismatic leader Harakat Tahrir, their war of independence turned into a "sand war", led by the Polisario Front. After the withdrawal of Spain in 1975, Morocco then occupied the Western Sahara. With their swift jeeps, the highly mobile Polisario groups won battles and the enemy troops suffered bitter defeats. The Moroccan army feared the Polisario Front just as much as the Foreign Legion feared the Vietcong. Whereas General Giap's guerrillas hid unseen in the rice fields under water, breathing only through a straw while awaiting passing patrols, the Sahrawi units buried themselves in the sand. Here they hid for days, waiting for the right moment to attack. And today, 30 years later, the Sahrawis proudly tell stories of their courageous fighters who, just by looking at the color and exact texture of the sand, could tell exactly in which part of the desert they were. Morocco responded to the desert defeat with aerial warfare. Villages were bombed, napalm was used, wells were poisoned and the vital livestock was butchered. Tens of thousands of Sahrawis fled to Algeria. Then came the Moroccan settlers, with the Koran in their hands - the "Green March". Hassan II "maroccanized" Western Sahara and was thereby in a position to rely on the West, which leveraged the king as a regional counterweight to Algeria. The U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger negotiated arms deals with Taiwan, Jordan, South Korea and South Africa. The Carter administration brought in Cobra helicopters. At a later point in time, Green Berets came as trainers and the king signed a contract to allow for the acquisition and use of American cluster bombs.

In the meantime, the tide seemed to turn in intervals. Nicaragua had undergone its revolution, the guerrillas in El Salvador already believed that they were at the point of winning victory, and all African countries were decolonized. Only South Africa was still reined by white rulers. The Western Sahara conflict was the last African-colonial conflict in the traditional sense. The Polisario Front had officially taken over the government and a president, ministers and ambassadors were appointed and agreements were signed. Mauritania renounced its claims. The Sahrawis intensified their diplomacy and the Socialist Internationals granted them observer status. UN aid programs began to offer support. Morocco, however, built a 10-meter high barrier. A high-tech barrier reaching a length of 1200 km has since then divided Western Sahara, including barbed wire, infrared and booby traps along with 170, 000 Moroccan soldiers behind the wall. And in front of this wall is a narrow, barren strip of "liberated space" belonging to the Sahrawis.

In 1991 during a UN convention between Morocco and the Polisario Front, a cease fire with a later referendum was agreed upon. The people should have the final decision when it comes to their independence. The Polisario Front was prepared to dismantle themselves if the majority of Moroccan people desired this. The Saharawi people thought they were right on target. They talked about election observers and discussed plans for bringing back the refugees. But the clocks had long since been turned – without having asked the people concerned. Another time had begun. None of the major powers were really interested in the referendum. The Soviet Union no longer existed. Paris did whatever the king wanted and delivered military goods worth 250 million euros from 1991 to 2000. All the major multinational companies - Renault, Citroen, TotalFinaElf, Aerospatiale - were doing business in the kingdom.


The referendum was planned to take place in 1992 under the supervision of the MINURSO UN peace-keeping force that had been established one year prior to. Up to the year 2000, the UN Security Council had decided to postpone the voting on five occasions. Morocco forged electoral lists and sabotaged the registration. Above all, the UN strived to change the Saharawi people's mind. Bit by bit, the terms and conditions of the referendum were softened. In some cases, it was just a matter of autonomy, then the division, and today the United Nations now favors autonomy with voting on the future status due to take place in the foreseeable future. The Polisario Front insisted on the exact terms of the UN resolutions. And whenever the Sahrawis grudgingly began to yield to their disadvantage, Morocco categorically refused any compromise. Only few partners are truly on the refugee's side: Algeria, of course, and Cuba, the young Sahrawis who are electrical engineers, farmers or trained medical professionals. But the returning refugees have to submit themselves to their "home" in the refugee camps and the "revolutionary idea" of doing nothing. Many ended up fleeing to Europe. The Polisario Front practices a regime in these camps that is - in many ways - “in line with modern day thinking": Religious fundamentalism is alien to them. Faith is a private matter. In matters of divorce, the woman has the right to keep the tent. And schools are co-ed.


Africa's last colonial conflict outlives time. But Morocco is too important, and Algeria is gaining in importance. Especially with respect to the "war on terror". But the Sahrawis are no longer allocating any more land with respect to the reorganization of the Maghreb. When looking at the big picture of this geopolitical game, these areas are written off as a "negligible amount". For decades, NGOs have been providing refugees with food and medicine. Emergency aid and everlasting inventory had become a standard condition for refugees. On the political front reined standstill. In the nature of forces, the responsibility for the hopeless situation of the Saharawi people and for their continual degradation now lies in the hands of the UN, because they are the only ones who can negotiate at this time. To do so, they would have to confront the powers of the Security Council who have the final say.


medico international believes in and supports the Sahrawi claim to freedom and justice and will continue to proactively be on the refugees' side. In order to build up political pressure to resolve the Western Sahara conflict by leveraging public relations campaigns, we solely rely on your solidarity and financial assistance. The donation keyword is: Western Sahara.

With the support of ECHO (Humanitarian Aid Office of the European Union), we supply the refugee camp (near Tindouf, Algeria) with medicine and medical commodities.

Published: 06. June 2012

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