Caitlin Dearing Scott, MAC
November 7, 2014
At a meeting in Rabat late last month, a recently escaped refugee from the Polisario-run camps near Tindouf shared his story and called for a number of measures to resolve the Western Sahara conflict and improve the lives of the people throughout the territory.
El Bouihi Hmati is just one of thousands of Sahrawis who risked their lives to flee the camps and return to the Western Sahara. Forced to join the ranks of the Polisario at a young age, Hmati spent 40 years in the camps. He was sent by the Polisario to Cuba, Libya, and Algeria for education and military training – not unlike other refugees we have heard stories from. Hmati was just one of many refugees forced to be away from their families for years only to return to camps under tight Polisario supervision, with limits on freedom of movement and restrictions on human rights, not to mention complete reliance on the international community for food and few ways of earning a living.
Hmati described this suffering in the camps and the deterioration of social services, which has created an environment of endemic poverty and insecurity. He described how these conditions have led to increased protests against the Polisario leadership, some of which El Bouhi Hmati participated in.
In his testimony, El Bouhi Hmati stressed that the implementation of the Moroccan autonomy plan is the most appropriate and realistic solution to the Sahara conflict — and the only way out of the current impasse. He underscored the importance of “empowering young people in the southern provinces to manage their local affairs” and strengthening “the role of civil society in the process of sustainable development” at all levels. Hmati called on the Moroccan authorities to engage with the new generation of Sahrawis and pave the way for them to participate effectively in the “building of a new Morocco on a strong foundation of freedom and dignity.”