“Few people realize this is the only refugee camp in the world where the [UN Refugee Agency] has not been allowed to do its job,” the diplomat said.
Rabat – Morocco’s Ambassador to South Africa Youssef Amrani decried Polisario’s human rights violations in the Tindouf camps and the state of lawlessness in which its “sequestered” inhabitants must live.
The Moroccan Embassy in Pretoria shared on Tuesday the fourth installment of an eight-episode video campaign breaking down the Western Sahara question.
The clip features Amrani’s dismal assessment of the human rights situation in Tindouf, a cluster of refugee camps near Algeria’s western border with Morocco.
The depravity of the camps is widely known. Algeria handed control of the camps over to the Polisario Front, the armed separatist group representing the self-styled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
“Human rights violations by Polisario separatists in the Tindouf camps in Algeria have continued since the first camps were set up more than 40 years ago,” the ambassador said in the video.
The militant group has made international headlines for unlawful arrests of dissidents, forced disappearances, and even arbitrary executions.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and numerous members of the European Parliament have also exposed Polisario’s embezzlement of humanitarian aid to purchase arms, but the separatist group’s infractions continue unabetted. The population suffers insecurity in terms of food, water, and medicines.
Escalating abuses in Tindouf
“Systematically, abuses have increased. Thousands of Sahrawis remain trapped in desperate conditions, with no freedom of speech or association, no free movement, no right to education, and no right to work, all this in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” Amrani continued.
Human rights observers also face restricted access to the camps, further muddling the reality on the ground. Because Algeria and Polisario refuse to allow the United Nations to conduct a census of the camps, the true extent of abuses is unknown.
Polisario uses this blind spot to continue its diversion of humanitarian aid intended for the camps’ population. Amrani called this an “unacceptable reality.”
“Few people realize this is the only refugee camp in the world where the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) has not been allowed to do its job,” he stressed. “The absence of a clear, legal framework governing the condition of the population of Tindouf is an exceptional, unprecedented situation in international law.”
The Polisario Front is not internationally-recognized as a legitimate entity capable of governing the Tindouf camps. The group essentially holds the camps’ residents hostage, forbidding them from leaving for better lives in Morocco’s southern provinces or other parts of Algeria.
This suppression constitutes a violation of the 1951 Convention of Geneva on refugees and its 1967 protocol, Amrani explained.
“These kidnapped camps are lawless areas and cannot continue to be so indefinitely,” he emphasized.
The ambassador called upon the international community to demand that Polisario reveal the reality of the Tindouf camps.
“What [do] some parties want to hide from the international community? … Can Algeria continue to outsource the protection of human rights on its own territory? … How does it come that a country, namely Algeria, accepts to hand over its international responsibilities to an armed group?” Amrani asked.
Western Sahara and South Africa
As Morocco’s Ambassador to South Africa, Youssef Amrani faces unique challenges in his diplomatic mission. Appointed in 2019, Amrani is the first Moroccan ambassador in South Africa following a 15-year lapse in diplomacy.
Along with Algeria, South Africa is the most powerful continental opponent to Morocco’s territorial integrity. Consequently, relations between Morocco and South Africa remain frigid.
South African institutions have described Morocco as an “occupying power” in the Sahara and government officials have questioned Morocco’s sovereignty. President Cyril Ramaphosa himself has, on several occasions, outwardly attacked Morocco.
With the stance of South African leadership abundantly clear, Ambassador Amrani has his work cut out for him as he strives to improve Morocco-South Africa relations while disseminating information about the Western Sahara conflict.
The Moroccan embassy’s Western Sahara awareness campaign aims to deconstruct the “many illusions” about the conflict. It does so by distributing informative videos on digital platforms and social networks in South Africa and its neighboring countries.