Never Seen Her Homeland

On Thursday evening 10 Oct, I attended a talk in Dunedin by Tecber Ahmed Saleh who spoke about Western Sahara. She was born in a refugee camp in neighbouring Algeria and gave us an overview of the situation in Western Sahara between the local Saharawi people and Morocco (Morocco occupies 80% of the area and controls the phosphate and fishing resources).


Morocco arrived in 1975 when Spain relinquished their control of the region. Half the Saharawi population fled to Algeria where refugee camps were established. The Saharawi population fought back through the Polisario Front until a UN brokered ceasefire in 1991 which agreed there would be a Referendum on Independence the following year. Over 25 years on and this still hasn’t happened, and it’s again under discussion at the UN right now. The UN mission MINURSO was established back in 1991, the acronym is French for the UN Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara.


Morocco in the 1980s also built a wall or berm 1700 miles / 2700 km in length to create a separation between the occupied area and the other Saharawis that live outside. It’s also the longest minefield in the world. I found  this map  which clearly shows Western Sahara, the long Berm, and the neighbouring countries. MINURSO has monitored the ceasefire at the Berm but has achieved little else despite various attempts.

There is no UN Human Rights monitoring inside the occupied area and I’ve read many accounts of oppression and violence from the occupier. Tellingly, Morocco refers to the occupied area as its Southern Provinces. International reporters are rarely allowed into the area:  A glimpse of Western Sahara’s Forgotten Refugees

The kicker is that New Zealand’s two large farmer-owned fertiliser co-operatives, Ravensdown and Ballance, import large shipments of phosphate from Western Sahara every year. They claim they’re doing nothing wrong. From what I’ve read over the last few days my personal opinion is they are wrong (both from a moral standpoint and probably in international law). They’re paying Morocco for a resource that rightly belongs to the local inhabitants, the Saharawi. They’re the only Western companies still importing this phosphate, others having stopped already or in the process of doing so.

This situation troubles me.. it’s the reason I’ve been reading more about it and am now blogging. To raise awareness. And because NZ is involved. Sad.


Here’s a photo of the article that appeared in the Otago Daily Times the day after the talk. Click on the image to enlarge OR it can be read online  HERE


Tecber is an advocate for human rights and works in health in the Saharawi refugee camps. She studied Biology in the USA and holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

She was born in a Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. Her parents met in the camp, her family has lived in the refugee camp for over 40 years. She advocates for a homeland she has never seen. — these last details are from an article in The Sydney Morning Herald  Lunch with Activist Tecber Ahmed Saleh  (great article that includes many details mentioned by Tecber in her Dunedin talk).

“She has led research into the effects of the high iodine content of the camps’ water supply, which causes thyroid problems in its residents. She has researched how the “refugee diet” – high in carbohydrate staples like couscous and flat bread, supplemented by camel meat and scant fresh fruit and vegetables – affects health long-term. She has also set up a cancer register. Cancer in the camps’ residents is often not picked up until it is too late, and patients must be sent to Algerian towns for treatment.” — quoted from the Sydney Morning Herald article [link provided in previous paragraph].

Can you imagine what it’s like to have never seen your homeland?  — Liz

Text by Liz; photos by Nigel and Liz; Exploring Colour (2019)

8 thoughts on “Never Seen Her Homeland

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  1. I’m old enough to remember when this was Spanish Sahara. By rights it should have become an independent country when Spain left, but unfortunately Morocco took it over, as you pointed out.

    Your mentioning that Tecber Ahmed Saleh has a degree from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona reminds me of the summer I spent in Catalunya (Catalonia) in 1985. Many Catalans are eager to be their own country again, and not a part of Spain. I remember seeing a world map in Barcelona showing separate countries for places like Catalunya and Kurdistan—how timely.

    Pompeu Fabra was a great codifier and promoter of the Catalan language. I still have his more-than-1300-pages-long Catalan dictionary on my shelf.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True. My current understanding is that France is the main obstacle. France has strong links with Morocco and veto power in the Security Council. It seems inhuman that Saharawis spend decades as refugees with no immediate resolution in sight.

      Liked by 1 person

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