The ISL in the Saharawi camps of Tindouf

By Flor Salgueiro and Rubén Tzanoff

From May 20 to 22, the 10th Congress of the UJSARIO took place. It developed its activity in the wilaya Boujdour, located in the Saharawi camps of Tindouf, Algeria. Three days of intense activity allowed us to feel the harsh reality in which the Saharawi people live. We were also able to perceive the will to fight for freedom and the recovery of the usurped territories. The delegation of the International Socialist League which participated as a guest reaffirmed its commitment to support the struggle for self-determination.

A complicated political framework with a people standing up for itself

The Congress took place in the context of the resumption of warlike actions between the Polisario Front and Morocco. The rupture of diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco. The historical turn of the Spanish government towards the support to the autonomy plan of Mohamed VI and the worsening of the African economic-social situation as a consequence of the war in Ukraine. Morocco made progress in its diplomatic offensive: the recognition of US imperialism, the growing complicity of the imperialist bloc of the European Union and the economic-military involvement of the genocidal State of Israel. It is a complex situation that the Saharawi people face mobilized and fighting.

The location of Western Sahara and the camps we visit On the map you can see the borders of Western Sahara with Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. Within that territory, Saharawis live in two zones: the larger one, controlled by Morocco, and the smaller one, controlled by the Polisario Front. You can also see a line that divides both zones, it is the “Wall of Shame”. It is a military construction of more than 2,720 km in length, defended by Moroccan troops and the increasing use of drones, around which millions of anti-personnel mines have been planted. This warlike monstrosity constitutes a real apartheid to the Saharawi population, whose objective is to prevent the return to their land of the refugees living in the Tindouf camps, located in Algeria, which we visited and which also appear on the map.

The organization in the camps

In the Tindouf camps there are officially 173,600 people, although the real number may be as high as 200,000. There is an enormous female presence, since, although it is not obligatory, the men are at the front line or emigrated looking for work. The camps are made up of five wilayas named after towns in Western Sahara: Boujdour, Dakhla, Laayoune, Auserd and Smara. Of these, we visited Boujdour and Smara. Each wilaya, which is an administrative unit, is composed of a few dairas, which are small population groups. The central administration of the Polisario Front is located in Rabuni.

Extreme living conditions

The families forced to leave their land more than four decades ago live in conditions of extreme poverty. They subsist on humanitarian aid, which is not enough to stop child malnutrition and food shortages. The camps were set up in the middle of an arid desert, whose climate is scourged with temperatures ranging between 40 and 50º C. The weak electricity supply is interrupted several times a day. There are no sewage, gas or transportation networks. There are very few schools, health services and stores. Only 1% of the refugees have access to university studies, which are carried out in Algeria or another country. The water that reaches the families is stored in closed canvas tanks. The houses are made of brick or adobe and are next to tents, which are traditional tents. Sometimes winds or rains wash away the camps, as happened with the 2015 floods.

We carried out an intense activity strengthened by human warmth

On Thursday 19 we took off from Madrid together with other international delegations. At night we arrived at Tindouf Airport and from there an escorted convoy accompanied us to the wilaya of Boujdour, where we were accommodated. From the moment of arrival until the farewell on the night of June 22, we felt a human warmth without limits. We were welcomed by a family composed of women who shared with us the roof, water, tea and food with total naturalness and simplicity. This gave us more strength to carry out an intense activity.

The invaders violate human rights

We visited a human rights organization, the Museum of Resistance and other social institutions. Everywhere we came into closer contact with the little-publicized situation of repression suffered by the Saharawis in the occupied territories. Activists for self-determination are persecuted, imprisoned and prosecuted. The most internationally known example is that of the activist Sultana Khaya and her family, held in their home without a warrant, victim of searches, torture and sexual assault. The invasion has resulted in hundreds of missing persons in what amounts to a veritable genocide.

Opening ceremony and first words of the ISL

The Opening Ceremony was held at the Bojador Center, with more than 500 delegates and about 150 guests. The “Azmàn Ali Brahim” Congress met under the theme “The Saharawi youth, a mobilized and conscious force to win the battle of the future”. It began with a show of traditional music followed by speeches of welcome from the governor of Boujdour, Alaaza Babih, the secretary general of UJSARIO, Mohamed Said Dadi and the secretary general of the Polisario Front and president of Western Sahara, Brahim Galli.

Among the words of the delegations was that of our comrade Alejandro Bodart, coordinator of the International Socialist League, who expressed:

“…we are from an organization of revolutionaries that groups revolutionaries practically in all continents. We welcome this event, we are convinced that the Congress to be held by the comrades of the youth is going to be very successful. Our unconditional commitment is with the cause of the Saharawi people. No people can be free as long as there is a people that does not have the possibility to enjoy its freedom, its autonomy and to decide its own future. Therefore, we are at the disposal of all the resolutions that are resolved so that the Saharawi cause reaches the last place on the planet. We know that we are in a very complex moment, that the Saharawi people is in a very complex moment, but the only struggle that is lost is the one that is abandoned. Therefore, to the extent that they do not abandon the struggle, we are convinced that at the end of the road will be the freedom of the Saharawi people, will be the possibility of autonomy, will be the possibility of recovering the territories and the possibility of doing justice to all the criminals who during all these years have oppressed the Saharawi people. I believe that all of us who are aware of the suffering of the Saharawi people, together with promoting everywhere the defense of this so just cause, we also have to work so that in our own countries a process of liberation advances. Argentina, the country where I come from, has not yet recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. It is a shame that our country has not joined the more than forty countries that already recognize this Republic. Comrades, comrades, if we are in this situation, if you are in this situation, if our people in Argentina are a semi-colony of the United States, if we are still in the whole world subjected to the designs of imperialism, of the different imperialisms, of the new imperialisms that are emerging, the task that all revolutionaries have is to work in all our countries to throw off the yoke that subjects us, to promote the socialist revolution in our countries, to advance until there is a free world, a united and socialist Latin America, a united and socialist Africa, a world without exploitation and without oppression. Therefore, our commitment to your cause is to advance the causes of the workers and the oppressed in each of the countries where we are, because if we come together and unite, there is no one who can prevent us from winning, comrades. Let us not let ourselves be won over by skepticism, capitalism is getting worse and worse, it is going through a terminal crisis. If all the peoples of the world unite and fight, we can win and have a dignified future for all of us and for all humanity before barbarism definitively takes over our future. Thank you.”

The Steering Committee of Solidarity with Western Sahara was formed

On Saturday 20, a plenary session was held, coordinated by Chaiaa Ahmed Baba and Hamdi Toubali, who work in the external representation of the Saharawi Youth. At the event, the political and social formations expressed a strong common point: the claim for the cause of self-determination of Western Sahara. Among them, it is worth mentioning the combative and joyful Palestinian presence that claimed the common struggle for the freedom of their people and the Saharawi. The delegations presented their proposals for action, among which was the one formulated by our colleague Flor Salgueiro, representing Socialism and Liberty (SOL) – Spanish State, which is in the following video.

Subsequently, the Steering Committee of Solidarity with Western Sahara was formed and our comrade joined it. 

Farewell in the tent

The last day in the camps we moved to a tent set up to say goodbye to the delegations. President Brahim Galli was present there. Among the farewell speeches was the one given by our comrade Alejandro Bodart.

More than ever, spokespersons for the Saharawi cause

In the evening, with the house in darkness due to a power cut, we shared dinner and the last glasses of tea with the family who welcomed us. Then we left with Chaiaa, in an escorted convoy to the Tindouf airport for our return. We left tired from the intense activity in the oppressive heat, but optimistic about the continuity of the struggle. Proud of the international campaigns we have been carrying out. And happy to have strengthened ties with the just Saharawi cause for freedom, for which we will continue to be spokespersons in each country of the five continents where the ISL is located.