Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Refugee Camps quick insight

 Here is a quick résumé of the headlines of my trip to the Saharwai Refugee Camps. I tried to give concise impressions on each of the activities in order to get you close to what it felt like going through them in the desert.

I didn't mention all what I went through since this might take endless time to write, and my decion to point out the major activities only was moved by my attempt to convey a short, well packed and enriching program for the many people I talked to and who consider sailing for a similar experience in the camps.

I am now preparing for a similar trip, but this time it will be in Western Sahara, specifically in Laayoun, the capital of the South. I will publish how things went as soon as I get back, and it will be an opportunity to have an insight on the pro-Moroccan version of the conflict and to ponder the similarities and differences between the two versions of a conflict we fooly think is a clear black and white issue.

The date of the trip to Western Sahara is still unknown, but it will probably happen this winter or soon after Winter break. I'll keep updating as things are sorted out.

You can find the full experience of my journey in the camps in my older post:

Day 1: Women congress

The first day in the camps was one of the most enriching experiences I ever had since I was lucky enough to attend the women congress held by Saharawi Women in the 27th February Camp.
During that day-long congress, much of my concepts about women, their capabilities and potential changed, and having the opportunity to assist to several workshops broadened my views on how women in the camps managed their life and contributed to the national cause, both in its social and political extent.
The workshops covered a wide range of aspects, ranging from journalism, women activism, media and foreign policy shaping, all discussed in its full feminine extent.

Day 2: Chats and discussions with people, veterans and Youth

The second day didn’t comport formal events, and it was aimed at studying and discovering the daily life of Saharawi people, as a way of attributing a human figure to the conflict we usually associate with mere numbers and geopolitical data.
I divided the day into two phases:
First I met with the veterans and fighters who served in the front lines during the armed conflict. I had the chance to chat with elders who still remembered the first days of the war, describing accurately the strategies pursued by the Polisario fighters, as well as the faces of the Moroccan POW and the sounds of explosions of land mines deep in the desert. One veteran, who constantly refilled his pipe as he was talking, spent quite a long time describing the horrors of the bombings led by French Aircrafts ‘Jaguar’ and how he managed to survive long days without access to food or supplies.
I also talked to youth who joined recently the army, and asked them about their motivation in raising the guns in the front lines, and why they chose to lead the military path instead of the academic one. Frustration but also deep passion to move the stagnant waters of the conflict popped out during my conversation with people my age but already enrolled in the military institution.

Day 3: Visit to the administrative camps, infrastructure and government bodies & political prisoners

One of the key aspects of the program was the evaluation of the Saharawi governmental work and political auto sufficiency, as it is frequently referred to the poor administrative capacities of the Polisario in the conflict overview.
I visited the administrative camp of Rabouni, where the ministries headquarters and the administrative compounds laid. At first glance, the infrastructure was obviously one of the poorest I ever saw, but the work performed behind those modest buildings was far more reaching than highly equipped administrative organs in decent states.
In the evening, I spent few hours with former Saharawi political prisoners in Moroccan jails. I was given striking confessions and heart breaking testimonies, all accompanied by traces of physical violence endured in Moroccan prisons.
Few of those interviewed were banned from entering Morocco after they managed to join the camps; others were still pursued by Moroccan justice for crimes mostly described the Sahrawis as legitimate acts of free expression and requests for recognition, while the rest was in constant displacement between the camps and Western Sahara, those being activists still operating associations inside the territories.

Day 4: Civil Society groups (Film making/ Youth activism) and Hunger Striker interview

Though the refugee camps are a pile of tents, bricks, cars and sand, the Saharawi society managed quite well to undermine those harsh conditions and build a community with various social bodies, and one of them was the civil society operating through dozens of local associations.
I visited the association of Saharawi Film making amateurs, and I was given detailed interviews from the members who, proudly, presented me their art works, mostly short documentaries made by the youths, where the living conditions, political performances and youth activism in the Saharawi society was depicted with passion and professional skills, regardless of the poor filming equipment the association possessed.
Before my travel to the camps, I heard about the Saharawi Hunger Striker Mohamed Yahdih who had led a strike after the Moroccan authorities rejected his application to take part in UN sponsored family visit. I decided to visit him, and I managed to record a long interview were he explained the motives of his strike, referring to the twisted Moroccan policy in determining those who can be welcomed in their territory.

Day 5: Museum & Polisario Secretariat member

In my last day, I visited the local museum where historical documents and original transcripts were displayed along with the equipment, military vehicles and weapons gained by the Polisario fighters during the armed conflict.
Before heading to the tent and packing my stuff in order to fly back to Norway, I managed to get an interview from a senior official who was the head of the Saharawi syndicate and member of the Polisario secretariat.
He informed me during the interview of the many international events he attended along with Moroccan delegates, and described the process of discussion both parties went through, starting with the rigid ignorance of one another until the serious talks in which the parties evaluated frankly the conflict, its aspects and the ways to overcome the hinders and reach a mutual agreement.

Mohamed Amine Belarbi