The Western Sahara is a desert region
lying between Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania. This region is the homeland of the
Saharawi, who are a mix of Arab and Berber people. There are about 220,000 Saharawi and
more than half live in refugee camps.
In 1975 the Moroccan army invaded and occupied territory within the Western
Sahara, and most Saharawi civilians fled east into Algeria. Since then, a huge complex of
Saharawi refugee camps has grown up around Tinduf in western Algeria, near the border with
Morocco. These camps are home to more than 160,000 people, mainly women and children. Most
people under the age of 24 have never lived anywhere else but in the camps, which are
located in one of the worlds harshest natural environments.
Since 1975 The Saharawis armed
struggle against Morocco has been waged by the military wing of the Polisario, an
organisation originally formed to fight an earlier occupation of the territory by Spain.
Morocco keeps a heavy military presence in the Western Sahara, and has raised a vast
barrier of sand, called the" berm", and hundreds of miles of high barbed-wire
fencing, to block attacks by Polisario guerrillas. Today the Polisario are also the
official political representatives of the Saharawi people. The camps are run
democratically, using a system of discussion and decision-making based on Saharawi tribal
tradition. Priority is given to health care, education, and equal opportunities for men
in the refugee camp