“We are not in Burma or Bangladesh in order to be treated in this way,” a Sahrawi gold prospector said while condemning the death of the two men.
Rabat – Sahrawis in Tindouf are protesting the death of two young gold miners who died after an Algerian army patrol allegedly set fire to an unauthorized excavation site.
Local outlets report that Algerian army personnel set fire to the site after the two young men refused to emerge from the makeshift mining pit, attempting to avoid arrest. The men had been searching for gold, which is illegal in the area.
Other outlets said the Sahrawi gold miners tried to hide from Algerian gunfire in the extraction site, which the army personnel then set on fire.
Protests started on Monday, according to Algeria Times, after both men died due to their serious injuries despite being transferred to the “Dakhla” camp hospital in the city of Rabouni, Algeria.
The outlet alleged that the cause of death is still unknown.
Another Sahrawi man active in gold prospecting in the region, however, told the outlet that the two men died from suffocation after being set on fire.
He condemned the killing of the two Sahrawi gold miners, saying that Algerian authorities should rather arrest or imprison unauthorized gold prospectors instead of burning them alive.
“We are not in Burma or Bangladesh in order to be treated in this manner,” the Sahrawi man argued.
Algeria has long prohibited gold mining in the area. Sahrawi gold miners usually face prison sentences and fines if they are caught red-handed.
The Sahrawi prospector, however, said that Polisario must open the field of exploration to young Sahrawis so that they are not “expelled by Mauritanians or burned by the Algerian army.”
Desperate conditions in Tindouf
An estimated 90,000 Sahrawis live in the Tindouf camps, according to UNHCR, allegedly in dire conditions due to lack of freedom of movement.
Many Sahrawis are not able to find jobs outside Tindouf, a desert region in southernmost Algeria. Poor economic conditions push some people to bypass laws such as the restrictions on gold mining in an attempt to support themselves and their families.
Dozens of protests took place in Tindouf to oppose tightened restrictions and the lack of freedom of movement.
Former Polisario officer Mustafa Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud condemned Algeria’s pressure on Sahrawis, saying that protesters are only demanding their right to move freely, which is “guaranteed universally.”
Many Sahrawis see restrictions on movement outside the camps as “forced detention.”
Polisario limits the number of cars eligible to leave the camps for weeks and gives a list of those leaving the camps to Algerian security services.
The Tindouf camps still suffer from a score of humanitarian issues, including malnutrition and diseases among children and pregnant women, among others.
The UN secretary-general’s report on the situation in Western Sahara said malnutrition and anemia are prevalent issues among Sahrawis in the Tindouf camps.
According to the UN report, a major challenge for humanitarian NGOs and UN actors in the region is a resource shortfall and a “lack of predictable funding.”
The UNHCR, UNICEF, and WFP received only 58% of their combined resource needs for the 2020 regular programs.
The UN report also addressed the “chronic” shortages of vaccines and key immunization supplies, describing the lack of materials as a “challenge.”