The Sahrawi people are refugees living in the Algerian desert after fleeing from Moroccan invasion of their homeland in 1975 (Higgs & Ryan, 2015). After breaking free from Western colonization, the UN passed the right to self-determination for the Sahrawi to become a sovereign state on December 14th, 1960 (Farah, 2010). However, Moroccan rule sought to maintain the resource-rich lands of the Western Sahara and forcefully pushed out hundreds of thousands of Sahrawi refugees using napalm gas, bombs, landmines, and military force (Culture of Resistance Films, 2014). Since then, endless talks with the UN have attempted to decolonize Western Sahara, but Moroccan forces have taken control of referendum that would allow the Sahrawi to vote on their independence. All voting efforts have been blocked by Morocco and other countries that support Morocco’s desire for the Sahrawi to live under Moroccan rule; “All international efforts aimed at achieving decolonization and a peaceful resolution to the conflict thus far have failed” (Farah, 2010). Currently, the Sahrawi live in extensive refugee camps in the Southwestern part of the Tindouf in the hundred-degree desert (Mikva, 2015).
The Sahrawi are a kind, welcoming, and supportive group of people stuck in a voiceless situation, and WE want to help. As stated by researchers in the International Journal for Intersectional Feminist Studies, “Sahrawi demonstrates that the equality amongst men is not only possible but that it is possible regardless of environment, culture or religion” (Higgs & Ryan, 2015). When the Sahrawi were first kicked out of Morocco, the women fled to build refugees camps in Algeria. Thus, the governing body of the Sahrawi and the camps themselves are built upon the foundation of women’s equality (Higgs & Ryan, 2015).
One of David Lippiatt’s most beloved experiences with the Sahrawi is the strong tradition of drinking tea. Several times in a day, many will gather around a tea pot and drink rounds of green tea, taking pride in their decadent tea making and time to share stories in solitude (Organization for Statehood and Freedom, 2010). These tea rituals unite the refugee camps and visitors who come to hear the hardship and strength of the Sahrawi.
The struggle for independence for the Sahrawi continues to this day with no change. Surrounded by land mines, with harsh water scarcity and living conditions, and without any government support, being heard is impossible.
This past October, David and part of the WE team traveled to UN Headquarters in New York City. In the Fourth Committee (Special Political Decolonization) meeting, David spoke on behalf of the Sahrawi, telling stories of strife and begging for peace. You can help fund the voice that WE International speaks on behalf of the Sahrawi, sponsor a trip for WE to collect more stories, or donate to any one of our related programs.
Culture of Resistance Films. (2014). Western Sahara: Historical Timeline 1884-2014. Culture of Resistance Films. Retrieved March 16, 2018 from http://culturesofresistancefilms.com/ws-timeline
Farah, R. (2010). Sovereignty on Borrowed Territory: Sahrawi Identity in Algeria. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs,11(2), summer/fall 2010, 59-66. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43133843
Higgs, J., & Ryan, C. (2015). Leaders in the desert: The Sahrawi women of Western Sahara. International Journal for Intersectional Feminist Studies,1(September), 29-39. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10092/11184/Women-of-the-Sahara.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
LAMAMRA, N. A. (2015, April 11). Western Sahara Since the Arab Spring. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from http://www.accord.org.za/conflict-trends/western-sahara-since-arab-spring/
Mikva, K. (2015, April 24). 12 Things You Didn’t Know About The Sahrawi People Of Western Sahara. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://afktravel.com/87072/12-things-didnt-know-sahrawi-western-sahara/
Organization for Statehood and Freedom. (2010). Sahrawi Culture. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from http://statehoodandfreedom.org/en/western-sahara/saharawi-culture
Western Sahara: Historical Timeline 1884–2014. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from http://culturesofresistancefilms.com/ws-timeline
Wikimedia Commons contributors. (2017, March 19). File:Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in its region (claimed).svg. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sahrawi_Arab_Democratic_Republic_in_its_region_(claimed).svg