2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the Saharawi exile in Southern Algeria.
Relegated since 1975 in tents and mud houses, depending in all aspects on humanitarian aid (collapsed over the past four years of 70%), exposed to a growing terrorist threat, divided from their relatives by a 2 thousand kilometers long sand wall in one the most mined areas in the world, Saharawis, without future nor prospects, are now threatening to resume their weapons against their historical enemy: Morocco. They want their land back, they want their Nation: Western Sahara.
Condemned to live in one of the harshest corners of the Algerian desert, today, after 40 years in exile their fate is still undecided.
Unemployment and a growing disillusion for an independence referendum promised by the UN and never realized in 23 years, despite a UN mission, MINURSO, still working in the area, are likely to push many Sahrawis, mostly young people, into the arms of Islamic extremism that here, in a region with porous borders, vast stretches of sand difficult to control and tensions never silenced, has, in recent years, found fertile ground to grow and carry out attacks and kidnappings.
In Rabouni refugee camp, 20 kilometers from the Algerian city of Tindouf, is still alive the memory of the 2011 abduction of three aid workers, and the security measures for the few Westerners left have been strengthened drastically.
So the Polisario Front, the political arm of the Saharawis, and the People’s Liberation Army, its armed wing, are now fighting on two fronts: on one hand there is the never ending conflict with Morocco, on the other Islamic terrorism that threatens its fragile community and the stability of a region that, according to many analysts, could soon become the new theater of the global war to terrorism.
Since the Arab Spring, in fact, North Africa has become even more volatile: the Algerian group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has established footholds in Mali, Niger and Mauritania, and recently staged attacks in Tunisia and in other countries, Ansar al-Sharia has filled the power vacuum in several parts of Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall. Morocco has, in recent weeks, raised its security alert because of the fear that terrorist fighters will return from Syria and Iraq, and Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are extending their reach from the west and the east. Stuck in the middle of this vortex are the Sahrawis.
In October 2012 Polisario Front reportedly set up a counterterrorism squad, to protect the refugees camps and the southern border, and anti-smuggling patrols for trying to stop drug trafficking.
Morocco’s intransigence and the ineffectiveness of the international community are pushing the Polisario Front, under pressure from the young masses born in refugee camps, to resume hostilities. They began several military exercises and the defense minister is browsing the whole war arsenal of the SPLA (Saharawi People’s Liberation Army).
Western Sahara and the Saharawi’s refugee camps have never been so in fibrillation, 2015 could really be a pivotal point for the future of this long lasting crisis. Forty years of exile have passed and the patience of the Polisario Front seems to be over.