My Dear Fetim
Updated: Jun 20, 2019
“They call themselves the children of the clouds because, since times past, they have been chasing clouds for their water. For more than thirty years now they have also been chasing justice which, in today’s world, seems more elusive than water in the desert”. - Eduardo Galeano (2005)
June 20th is World Refugee Day. Every year my thoughts go to the Algerian hamada, "the devil's garden", that part of the Algerian desert where nothings grows and temperatures reach 50° Celsius in summer. Where 135,000 Sahrawi refugees have lived for forty-four years, away from their land, stateless. Where I left a piece of my heart back in 2008. Where they have been living in refugee camps, separated by a 2,400 km wall and millions of land mines from their relatives, living on the other side under Moroccan occupation since 1975. Forty-four years.
My dear Fetim, Leil, Mossia and Munina, these amazing creatures of the desert. Mother and daughters. These four women that taught me so much during the three weeks I spent with them in their haima, in the 27th of February refugee camp of Tindouf, Algeria.
Their perseverance and their dignity are striking, a shining example of a society that refuses to lose their nation long occupied by the Kingdom of Morocco. The same Morocco that in 1976 bombed the Umm Dreiga refugee camps with napalm and white phosphorus, killing thousands of Sahrawi civilians. The same Morocco that drove Fetim and her family, along with tens of thousands of Sahrawis, to the Algerian desert. And after the bombs came The Green March, a nationalistic caravan of Moroccan colonizers and the beginning of a brutal occupation that remains to this day. The split of a nation. The forgotten conflict.
Sahrawi refugees are different than most, they are stateless. Fetim doesn't have a passport, you can't have a passport without a country. They have nowhere to return to, their country no longer belongs to them. Geopolitics have played a cruel game on them. Morocco, Spain, Israel, France, Saudi Arabia, the US... they've all played a cruel game on them.
I think of them often, enveloped by the collective guilt of those of us with Spanish blood and a sense of history. History that went the wrong way. They got caught between two dictators, King Hassan II and Francisco Franco, and the outcome has been a tragedy . A geopolitical tragedy, dictated by global powers without a trace of compassion or humanity.
But they carry on as a divided nation, one half under the thumb of Mohammed VI and the other half under all of our thumbs. The thumb of the international community that has failed to support the decolonization of the Western Sahara. The only country in Africa handed over from one colonial power to another. The only country in the world with a government in refugee camps. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, or RASD as they are know under the Spanish acronym. The last colony in Africa.
My dear Fetim, today I think of you, of Leil, Mossia and Munina, and of the other 135,00 Sahrawi refugees living in the Algerian desert for the last forty-four years. Today I think of the 211,000 Somalis living in the Dadaab refugee camps of Kenya. I think of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of the 4 million fellow Venezuelan refugees and migrants around the world, and of the tens of thousands of Central Americans separated from their children and kept in detention centers in the United States. I think of the 25 million refugees around the world often. They need us, let's not forget.