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About the Author

Andrea Arzaba
Student / Blogger (Mexico City)

Andrea Arzaba defines herself as a “journalist, peace activist, indigenous cultures lover and an eager world traveller”. Currently, blogger for Global Voices Online and for Adopt A Negotiator Project. Andrea is studying her BA in Communications at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. She studied last year at Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain.


DESERT’S UNSPOKEN WORDS: Western Sahara’s Conflict

Published 28th May 2010 - 16 comments - 11079 views -

“Refugee Camps are in a permanent oblivion situation. There is a constant repression, a quiet one”.
Silvia Garcia talking referring to Western Sahara’s conflict.


"Saharawi refugee in near Smara refugee camp"
Picture posted by Paulo Nunes dos Santos at

Western Sahara’s conflict is indeed confusing and, unfortunately not very well known. In this year, this confrontation turned 35 years old. It is here, in Sahara, where the war continues and hope seems to fade away.


-Western Sahara fell under Spanish rule in 1884, becoming a Spanish province in 1934.
-On October 1975 the International Court of Justice rejected territorial claims by Morocco and Mauritania. The court recognised the Saharawis' right to self-determination and Spain agreed to organise a referendum.
-Spain never organized the referendum, until today.
-In November 1975, Moroccan King Hassan II ordered a "Green March" of over 300,000 Moroccans into the territory.
-Spain agreed to end colonial rule.
Status: Disputed territory claimed by Morocco and Saharawis seeking self-determination.
- Different NGOs such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch have declared different torture cases of Saharawis living under Moroccan government.

Information based on the BBC News website.



"Smara, the biggest refugee camp in Tindouf province"
Picture posted by Paulo Nunes dos Santos at



“What I try to do is to spread Saharawis cause”, told me some days ago Silvia Garcia Díaz, a journalism student at Madrid’s Universidad Complutense.

I met Silvia in one of our last classes of the course, as she started a discussion about Saharawis conflict. Afterwards I had a very interesting chat with her about this issue.

“A refugee camp is supposed to last 5 years or less, Saharawi people have been there for more than 30 years” she expressed, as the tone of her voice-raised immediately.

Silvia is sure that Spain is responsible for what is happening in Western Sahara, as she explained to me: “Western Sahara was once a Spanish colony, and when it got its independence, Spain did not finished a formal decolonization process. Now it is Morocco who has the power in this territory, even if the United Nations recognizes Spain as the responsible state”.

Silvia went to one of the refugee camps in Algeria, and she got to know the territory in a particular way: “Western Saharawis have been there since 1975, when they improvised their own refugee camps. I believe the most significative problem is that time passes by, and people forget. They only survive from humanitarian aid and nothing else”.

It is important to mention that there are some students from Western Sahara that have the opportunity to attend school abroad with financial aid, and they always come back to wait for the liberation of their own nation. “There are engineers, doctors, teachers who studied outside Algeria or Western Sahara, but they cannot work or practice what they studied inside the refugee camps”, she declared.

Picture taken from website



“My duty is to spread and talk about what is happening. They have been waiting 35 years for a resolution, and not because I go and meet them everything will change”, Silvia explained with a vigorous blow. “When you visit those camps you feel you do not know what to do. You create empathy with the people. Then they ask you just to spread the word. Do not let them forget we are waiting here. Peacefully”.

Silvia, next to other students that have had a closer approach to Saharawi refugee camps, formed the “University Platform in favour of Western Sahara”, where students get together to organize events all over Madrid, and to spread Saharawis message. They feel it is their responsibility as Spanish citizens, in order to inform others what is happening in Western Sahara.


Picture taken by Michelle Brehm from


Silvia finished this interview with a smile on her face, as she shared one last message not only for Spanish society, but for all nations in the word: “Let’s not forget that people will never be less important, as a fundamental beginning, like in Western Sahara’s conflict. We are responsible as people for what we do; we create politics, economics, etc. It is us (people) who create conflicts too”.


(Andrea Arzaba, May 2010)

Category: Human Rights | Tags:


  • S. Kotb on 29th May 2010:

    Great article!

  • Andrea Arzaba on 29th May 2010:

    Thank you! It was exceptionally interesting to learn about Western Sahara’s conflict…and I tried to contribute on these student’s cause by publishing an article about what they want to tell the world! smile

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 29th May 2010:

    Thanks for this Andrea. That’s shocking! 30 years. This is very informative and interesting! In my country, we have a similar situation—that of the case of internally displaced persons in Mindanao. You can read my story here.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 29th May 2010:

    I forgot to mention that the photos are very evocative.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 29th May 2010:

    Iris! I agree the pictures can tell you more than a 1000 words sometimes! Ahhhh and about your article, this is such a sad story…but what is government doing about it? What is happening right now with those displaced people??

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 29th May 2010:

    “A refugee camp is supposed to last 5 years or less, Saharawi people have been there for more than 30 years.”

    This tells it all.

    And I think it’s great that these students “feel the responsibility as Spanish citizens”, as you say. Responsibility is one of the main things we lack in this world I think.

    Btw, great choice of pictures Andrea!

  • Clare Herbert on 31st May 2010:

    Loving the pics (as has been said)

  • Luan Galani on 02nd June 2010:

    Thanks so much, Andrea! Incredible…
    This oft-neglected people (and issue)need our attention indeed.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 02nd June 2010:

    @ Luan, Clare and Giedre: This issue needed our attention and we are actually creating a discussion about it smile and YES the pictures are amazing, in general check the photojournalist’s website:

    I can only imagine all the stories behind this pictures…

  • Hanna Clarys on 08th June 2010:

    Hi Andrea! I like this article, but I need to say one thing: I agree that Spain is partly responsible and should not deny that. But you cannot blame a former colonizer for everything that is going wrong in the country it used to colonize. It should be nuanced a little bit.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 14th July 2010:

    I agree with you Hanna. But if it is a mandatory resoultion from the UN?

  • Hussam Hussein on 14th July 2010:

    you raised an intersting issue.. thanks!

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 24th July 2010:

    Great article smile I don’t know how I missed it before!

  • Andrea Arzaba on 25th July 2010:

    It is never too late wink

  • Larisa Rankovic on 25th July 2010:

    I have also previously missed this article, but I’m glad I’ve got a chance to read it now:) Thanks for the great story

  • Andrea Arzaba on 25th July 2010:

    It is good that people keep on reading this post as the issue is still going on TODAY! :(

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