Dakhla refugee camp emerges from the dust, a sprawling single-storey town built of the desert sand. Our Landcruiser is approaching at speed along a network of dirt tracks after a bone-shaking journey through the fierce heat of the Sahara.
Home to nearly 30,000 people, Dakhla is the most remote of four refugee camps housing around two-thirds of the native Saharawi population of Western Sahara forced to flee over the border to Algeria after the Moroccan invasion more than three decades ago. The camp is entirely dependent on outside supplies of food and water. Summer temperatures on the hammada desert plain regularly top 120 degrees (48°C) and with sandstorms and scarce vegetation, it is little wonder that the area is known locally as “The Devil’s Garden.”
The conflict in Western Sahara is one of the longest running and most forgotten in the world. Known as Africa’s last colony, Western Sahara was sold to Morocco and Mauritania by the Spainish when they withdrew in 1976. The Mauritanians pulled out soon after and the Moroccans annexed much of the remaining territory in defiance of a ruling from the International Court of Justice. A sixteen-year war ensued between the Moroccans and the Saharawi independence movement, the Polisario Front. Under the terms of a 1991 UN ceasefire agreement, a referendum for self determination was promised, but has been repeatedly blocked by Morocco. In the meantime an estimated 165,000 refugees continue to live in camps in the inhospitable Algerian desert. MORE HERE