The Saharawi issue has colonial origins, linked to Spain’s occupation of Western Sahara, a territory they relinquish on 26 February 1976. The following day it is proclaimed the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) by the Polisario Front (Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro), now officially recognised by 82 countries and a full member of the African Union.
The previous year, however, following the so-called “Green March”, Morocco “invades” Western Sahara with a group of 350,000 marchers. But it is in 1976 that Morocco and Mauritania militarily occupy the region, resulting in the exodus of thousands of refugees towards the Algerian desert and the start of a war which the media and the rest of the world virtually completely ignore.
In 1991, after 15 years of conflict, Mauritania’s abandonment of the territory and the construction, by Morocco, of a 2,700 km wall patrolled by 160,000 military personnel and littered with 5 million mines, to separate the occupied territory from the rest of the desert, a ceasefire agreement is finally signed by Morocco and Polisario. The peace plan provides for a self-determination referendum under the aegis of the United Nations. But since the agreement was signed, Morocco has done everything possible to boycott the consultation and maintain the status quo whereby it occupies 90% of the Western Sahara territory, including phosphate mines and some of the richest fishing waters in the entire Atlantic Ocean, whilst the Saharawi people, who aren’t prepared to accept living in the occupied territory, are forced to live in refugee camps located in the Algerian desert. As a consequence of this never-ending wait the leaders of the Polisario Front have found it increasingly more difficult to control the younger generations who don’t want to spend their entire lives in refugee camps and believe it’s necessary to return to armed conflict.