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The sand wall

30 Minuts

A 2700-km sand wall, built by the Moroccan Army and protected by minefields, crosses the Sahara desert, dividing the Saharawi people in two.

A 2700-km sand wall, built by the Moroccan Army and protected by minefields, crosses the Sahara desert, dividing the Saharawi people in two.

73-year-old Mustafa el-Halem has crossed the wall for the first time in a U.N. humanitarian flight from Al-Aaiun, the capital of occupied Sahara in Morocco, to the refugee camp in Tinduf in the Algerian desert, where his brother Mohamed lives. This is the first time in 32 years that the two brothers will meet. The war separated them and now they can only spend a couple of days together. In the tent set up for the reunion, Mohamed, his voice trembling with emotion, says that "...the only thing left for me to do in my life is to see my brother, who I admire. But we won't be able to live together until we win our independence, not until then."

Most Saharawi families have dramatic stories like this one to tell. Since the Green March, organized by Hassan II in 1975, the desert sands of the former Spanish colony in Western Sahara were the setting for a 16-year-long war between the Moroccan Army and the Polisario Front.

The ceasefire called in 1991 was supposed to pave the way for a self-determination referendum supervised by the United Nations so that the Saharawi people could decide on their future. But today, 16 years later, there are still no prospects of a solution despite the conversations being held for the past year between Moroccans and Saharawis in Manhasset in the United States.

Hudda is 14 and like many other young Saharawis, she was born in a refugee camp. In a few days she will be leaving her parents to spend the summer with a family in Catalonia. The day before her departure, her father, who fought with the Polisario Front, took her to a museum displaying the weapons used in the war. In front of a Kalashnikov like the one he used, he explains, "For me and my children, that's all that exists, independence or we'll have to go back to shooting."

38-year-old Aminettu Haidar has never been to the refugee camps where some of her relatives live. She stayed in El-Aaiun, the capital of the region that is under Moroccan control, the so-called "useful Sahara", rich in phosphates and with good fishing waters. Because of her work in defense of human rights she has spent a good part of her life in El-Aaiún's "Black Prison" and her body still bears the scars of torture.

These are just some of the many stories of the people living on either side of the wall. It puts names and faces to a conflict in the desert sands that has virtually been forgotten but which is one of the longest in modern history.

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