Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated & mostly desert expanse of 266,000 km² situated on the northwest coast of Africa. It is the final frontier of decolonisation in Africa; the territory was held under Spanish rule for more than 200 years until it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, it has been the subject of a prolonged territorial dispute between Morocco and the indigenous Sahrawi people.
The Sahrawi people have endured hardships. In the mid-1970s, they were forced to flee cities in Western Sahara that were being bombarded by Morocco and had been abandoned by the Spanish government. Thousands of broken families ended up in southern Algeria seeking refuge, carrying what they could. With no services, they have had to rely on humanitarian help & international aid for food and water.
More than 173,000 Sahrawi people live in conditions of poverty, harsh climatic conditions and vulnerability in Algerian camps, with thousands more in the clutches of fierce Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara. Their refugee situation is one of the longest-running in the world. In 2019, a few months before the coronavirus pandemic, a nutrition survey was undertaken that revealed chronic malnutrition amongst the refugees. Some 7.6% of the population were acutely malnourished and 28% were stunted. 50% of children and 52% of women of reproductive age were anaemic.
Over the years, the Spanish government’s official position had been to support a U.N. sponsored referendum to settle the territory’s decolonisation. However, on March 18th 2022, in a letter addressed to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Spanish president Pedro Sánchez declared his support for “autonomy of the Sahara but always within Morocco”, essentially endorsing Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. This caused an uproar in Spain, where public support for the Sahrawi people remains strong. Few expected that Spain would cede the territory to Morocco once again.
In summary, the Spanish government is supporting a military occupation in Western Sahara and the well overdue matter of decolonisation is paramount in granting the sovereignty and freedom denied to generations of Sahrawi people.
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