By Mustafa Salma Oueld Sidi Mouloud
Collective asylum is considered to be an escape from an armed conflict or circumstantial issues due to ethnic, sectarian, or political conflicts. People often return to their homes or homelands after the threat to their life is removed. Is there still a threat to the Sahrawi families living in the camps on the Algerian soil after 25 years of ceasefire?
According to the Polisario Front and Algeria’s theory, the presence of the Moroccan administration in the Sahara threatens the lives of the Sahrawis. They try at every opportunity to incite the Moroccan Sahrawis to plot disturbances in the Saharan cities to confirm their theory.
But reality proves the opposite. According to the census of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in the Sahara, which was taken after the cease-fire, the majority of Sahrawis live in the Sahara regions. And thousands returned from the camps to Morocco after the census.
The Moroccan administration did not penalize or favor them over the rest of the population. It positively favored the returnees by offering them cash grants, housing and employment to facilitate their integration into society.
There are Sahrawis who go on visits from Morocco to the camps in support of the Polisario Front, to meet with its military and security leadership. Then ceremonies are held to honor them before they return to Morocco. However, Morocco does not prevent them from returning back or punish them when they return, except for one case 10 years ago when the individuals were released after just a few months in detention.
On the other hand, Polisario’s laws prohibit the inhabitants of the Sahrawi camps from returning to their homeland, and describe the act of return to the homeland, which is a universal and human right, as a crime of treason punishable by more than 10 years imprisonment.
Algeria has been involved in the crime of preventing the return of the Sahrawis due to its security control over the borders of the camps. Algeria has arrested many of them during their attempts to flee the camps, and handed them to the Polisario, where many of them spend long years in prison and others have been killed or their fate remains unknown to this day. History shows that the Polisario is the only movement in the world that has never called for the return of its refugees to their land.
This raises questions about their true intentions towards the Sahrawis. It also confirms that, in addition to the fact that the Sahrawi refugees are trying to get to the offices of the UNHCR to claim their legal status as refugees, the Polisario is exploiting them, like people who use civilians as human shields.
The Polisario’s insistence on keeping the Sahrawis as permanent refugees, despite the end of the circumstances which caused them to be displaced (the armed conflict), demonstrates that the Front intends to keep them hostage to protect the interests of its leaders, including making profits by marketing the misery and suffering of the refugees in the camps.
Moreover, these refugees are used by the Front and Algeria to threaten the stability of the region. They are the firewood that the Polisario uses as a threat at every occasion whenever they have a narrow margin of maneuver. They are Algeria’s winning card in its intended conflict against Morocco, an internal means of pressure to continue the meeting of its heterogeneous ruling elites, and a justification for its presence and its international blackmail.
The international community should not remain idle in the face of the human tragedy that the Sahrawis have been living in for decades because:
– There is no justification for the Sahrawis to remain dispersed;
– The Moroccan defensive wall is not the cause of dispersal as the Polisario claims;
– Morocco does not prevent them from returning to their land;
– It has not been proved that Morocco confiscated Sahrawi property or punished the returnees despite their carrying weapons against Morocco;
– The Polisario and Algeria are the ones which prevent and criminalize the return of the Sahrawis to their land and their communication between each other;
The international community should help the Sahrawis to return to their homeland and restore their normal lives by putting pressure on the Polisario Front to lift its hand off the Sahrawi civilians and enabling the UNHCR to protect and help them in self-determination in a free and independent manner.
Mustafa Oueld Sidi Mouloud is the former chief of the Polisario Police.