For forty years, the Saharawi people have been exiled from their lands, cast out into what is known as the “desert of deserts”, where they live in hope of one day embarking upon the long-awaited return to their promised land: their homeland of Western Sahara.
Their wait has been so long that entire generations have lived and died hoping for a return. One Saharawi woman, Tecber Ahmed Saleh, recounts: “My grandmother, she died holding the radio thinking that tomorrow they would call a referendum.”
The referendum that Tecber’s grandmother was listening for was first promised in 1991, when, after decades of colonisation and conflict, the Moroccan government agreed to a ceasefire that would have led to a vote on independence or autonomy within the Moroccan state.
The referendum has proved a mirage, and the current generation of Saharawi people are growing impatient. Tecber says that there is risk that the younger generation returns to arms after forty years of failed peace negotiations.
The Saharawi people were pushed into this “devil’s garden”— as the desert is known — in 1975, when, following colonial Spain’s withdrawal from Africa, the Moroccan and Mauritanian armies mobilised to occupy the resource-rich Western Sahara, beginning a bloody conflict that would end with Morocco annexing the region in 1976.
Faced with an occupying army, the Saharawi people sought refuge in neighbouring Tindouf Province in Algeria, establishing one of the largest and longest-lasting refugee camps in the , from which the Western Saharan government operates in exile.
This article was first published in Global Voices, an international community of writers dedicated to building understanding across borders. Click here to read the full report.
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