Western Sahara: Summer is Over for Sahrawi Children

Niñas Saharaui Summer is a time when many people take the chance to explore new, different places. They go beyond the border of their countries, and explore a different architecture, landscape and language.  Life can dramatically change during a summer vacation, because the world is definitely not flat and there are a lot of challenges outside the home and routine activities. Sometimes famous people visit the “other side” – places which face extreme conditions, and the impact is that big on them that they commit to a cause, as Javier Bardem did after visiting refugee camps in Western Sahara. The Oscar winning actor now supports Todos con el Sahara.

Blogger Viento del Sur writes about the actor's solidarity with Sahrawi people. He says Bardem declared when visiting the refugee camps:

La situación empeora año tras año. El proceso de paz está bloqueado y eso afecta especialmente a los más débiles. Mujeres, niños y ancianos", señaló Bardem, recordando que hay 200.000 personas que fueron españolas "abandonadas en el desierto desde hace 33 años

The situation worsens year after year. The peace process is blocked and this especially affects the most vulnerable people – women, children and the elderly, said Bardem, reminding us that there are 200,000 people who were once from Spain and have since been abandoned in the desert 33 years ago

Indeed famous names attract attention to a cause. Artists such as Manu Chao, the writer Eduardo Galeano and other famous people have visited the refugee camps in the past, and committed to the cause, as Caminando en el desierto says:

Si estos compromisos públicos sirven para avanzar, aunque sólo sea un paso -que sirven, sin ninguna duda- bienvenidos sean. Y aunque me gustaría que los verdaderos progresos se lograsen con la suma de los pasos individuales de quienes somos simples ciudadanos, debemos reconocer el mérito indudable que tienen estos apoyos.

If such public statements are helping to advance the cause a little – they undoubtedly do- such comments are welcome. And even when I would like for real progress as a result of the sum of individual efforts of average citizens, we must truly recognize the merits of this support.

Saharaui Girl And in Spain many families host Sahrawi children to spend the summer in their homes, and share a different culture in a safer environment, (you can see for example, Sahrawi chilren in Cordoba ) but in September summer is over, and it is time to say goodbye to their host families as Amigos del Sahara says:

os niños saharauis han acabado sus vacaciones en extremadura y han vuelto a Tindouf.

Sahrawi children have ended their vacation in Extremadura and are back in Tindouf.

Two lovely initiatives capture the attention of many people on the Web. Pencils for Peace (Lápices para la Paz) supports children facing armed conflicts by providing them with pencils and education materials and they discover a nice story in a recycled can:

Y aquí mismo, a pesar de la situación de exilio permanente, están ellos, con sed de aprendizaje, sonriendo y siendo felices a pesar de todo. A pesar de que el suelo de la escuela no es uniforme y alguna mesa esté coja..,de que la pintura de las paredes se caiga por la tremenda erosión de este lugar…, ellos siguen pintando con sus ceras maravillosas, la palabra libertad.

En un rincón del aula veo un bote.
Es una lata de leche en polvo. Y de él salen unos bonitos brotes verdes. Pregunto qué es y los niños entusiasmados me dicen: – ¡¡Son lentejas, son lentejas!!.
El profesor sonríe: – "Es una forma de que ellos sepan que el mundo no es sólo desierto y un lugar donde apenas existen las plantas. Día a día todos los niños vigilan los brotes para que nunca les falte el agua. Siempre hay que tener presente la esperanza…"

And here, in spite of the permanent exile, they are hungry to learn, while smiling and being happy despite everything – despite the fact that the floor of the school is not even and some tables are not balanced … the paint on the walls is fading due to the tremendous erosion… they are still painting the word freedom with their wonderful crayons.
In a corner of the classroom I see a can.
It is a can of milk powder. And from it, beautiful green sticks with leaves are growing. I asked what it is, the children excitedly told me: They are lentils, lentils!!!!
The professor smiles: – "It's a way to let them know that the world is not just desert and a place where there are hardly any plants. Day after day the children have to take care of the plants so it will never lack water. One must always have hope … "

And the other initiative is  Refugees Exhibition, which was hosted by volunteer Bars in Spain during the summer to collect funds and help Sahrawis.

During the summer some children have discovered Spain and shared life with their host families, others stayed behind in the refugee camps and were lucky enough to see Javier Bardem outside the big screen. These are baby steps to help them have a normal childhood in the middle of an armed conflict.  And now they are back to school in the refugee camps, using their new pencils and learning about a whole world of words.


  • Javier Bardem or Manu chao should be interested more on the humanitarian issue of Western Sahara than the political one. Western Sahara issue is very complex to new supporters under the spell of polisario leaders who made a visit to Tindouf camps. They can’t be rational and logical in their manner to treat Western Sahara issue.

    When Javier talked about 200.000 sahraoui in Tindouf camps, that means he has no idea about the right figures of people and the evolution of the issue. WFP and HCR are talking about 80.000 while unionist sahraouis are talking about 45.000 maybe less. 200.000 sahraoui living in Tindouf camps and VICTIMIZATION are simply mirages of Polisario leaders to recruit sympathy.

    I ask all these people to visit Western Sahara to make a balanced view of the conflict. There is a reality on the ground which must be taken into account which is definitely different from what you can get in Tindouf camps.


    Ahmed Salem

  • the political shall serve the humanitarian my dear and the real number of the Sahrawi refugees is not a problem if they are just 45 persons that could not ignor their right in self-determination.Our cause is gaining support day after day it will gain more and more it is just a matter of time my Moroccan friend and we shall vote in a fair referendum in which we will decid weither to be unionist or to be free.

  • Dear mohamed, always on the road :-)
    If they are 45, please let them return to Western Sahara. If they are more, let them express their will to stay or to return. Well, a pre-referendum in Tindouf camps needs first to get the right figures of sahraoui people living in the camps. I guess a census will never be. Isn’t it?

    Regarding the referendum, do I need to remind you that many mauritanians, malians and algerians are living in Tindouf camps. In such case, the referendum doesn’t make sense.

    There is a win-win proposal on the table. Don’t be blind and don’t push the west to its limit.

  • Well, a pre-referendum in Tindouf camps needs first to get the right figures of sahraoui people living in the camps. I guess a census will never be.

    Regarding the referendum, do I need to remind you that many mauritanians, malians and algerians are living in Tindouf camps. In such case, the referendum doesn’t make sense.

    …and even more Moroccans live in the parts of Western Sahara under Rabat’s control.

    For referendum purposes, it doesn’t matter how many or how few live in Tindouf, as long as everybody agrees how many of those who live there should have the vote in a referendum (i.e., are from Western Sahara originally). Such a census has been carried out by Minurso, alongside a meticulous identification process. This found that approximately 40,000 on either side of the Wall (total 80,0000 adults) can be safely identified as Sahrawis from Western Sahara, and should therefore vote. These lists are ready and archived since 1999, and can easily be updated to include those family members who have come of voting age since then, making for a grand total of voters around 100-120,000 people. Not a very logistically difficult number to handle. The problem, then, is not the technicalities of the referendum, but that Morocco refuses to allow it to happen; why that is, I’m sure you can figure out yourself.

  • Renata Avila

    Hey, thanks for the informative comments, but what about children? Did you like the attitude of children back in School? Believing in future, life, learning from differences? For me is the thing to appreciate and keep in mind.

  • Of course children and people living in hard life conditions are the most important than any political consideration. The problem in Tindouf camps is that people who are retained are mostly from Mauritania and Mali. They are considered sub-race (sorry for this shocking term but that’s the reality) comparing to Western Saharans by Polisario leaders. Many international reports talked about slaves and ill-treatment. At the same time, these people are used as “human shield” to ask for more aids…and for a STATE!!!!!!
    FYI, Backer plan I voting lists was agreed by Morocco and rejected by Algeria/Polisario. Then Backer plan II voting lists was rejected by Morocco and accepted by Algeria/Polisario. There were two lists and there were two blocking visions. So one from two, do you want to let these people die in the desert because of the stubborness of some polisario leaders or do you want to let them enjoy the modern life for what they left to live.
    There is no way for independence. The only way to be in conformance with international law is to get autonomy. The international community is asking Polisario leaders to propose his view of autonomy. Why not making a proposal in that sense? Well, there is already one on the table. Why not discussing on the basis of the moroccan proposal? Why?

  • ali

    I am from the occopied part of western sahara and I feel that I should let everyone know that we also are suffering under the Moroccan Control, we are abused if we talk about our rights we are even denied from saying the Name Western Sahara you have to Say Moroccan sahara or you will be puted in Jail and many other things…the world keep looking at the refugee campus and totally ignore us, yeah I totally agree that they are living under really hard living conditions but at least they have the ability to express their vues and to say the fact that they are from western sahara, we are denied even when we travel because we travel with Moroccan Passports and Morocco can send any of us to jail anytime if we break the moroccan law which for example say you cant say anything against the king neither the Moroccan nation I mean how could that be possible for us…
    we are in a serious matter and god knows when we are going to get helped

  • Dear Ali,

    You are simply exxagerating the matter of beeing in the Western Sahara region. People are living and travelling freely with their moroccan passports. Even the few separatists living in Laayoune and Smara are travelling freely from/to the Western Sahara region. The region has been developed since 1975. What about the camps of repression in Tindouf? Why dissidents to Polisario leaders are persecuted? Why people flee the camps to return to the Western Sahara region? Stop this unuseful propaganda and work on the future of the region. Many activists are asking for more human rights without asking for independence.

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