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Sahara

Day 14: Tinfou to Tindouf

Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria 
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Smara Camp, Algeria. For the last twenty-five years it has been home to 40,000 Saharawi refugees, who left their western Saharan homeland rather than accept Moroccan domination.
Michael Palin - SaharaHis name is Bachir Mehdi Bhaya and Algeria is not his home. He was born and brought up in the contentious territory of Western Sahara, a land of long coastline and hostile desert, larger than the United Kingdom, which once comprised the Spanish colonies of Río de Oro and Saguia el Hamra. When the Spanish abruptly left in 1975 taking everything including the bodies in their cemeteries, they offered what was left to Morocco and Mauritania.

The Polisario Front (Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el Hamra y de Río de Oro), acting on behalf of the half million inhabitants, known as Saharawis, who wanted to be neither Mauritanian nor Moroccan, began a guerrilla offensive. They were encouraged by the judgement of an International Court of Justice, which upheld the right of the locals to self-determination and scored early guerrilla successes against the Mauritanians, who have now abandoned claims to Western Sahara. The Moroccans are less amenable. They regard Western Sahara as having pre-colonial ties with the rest of Morocco. Its acquisition would almost double the size of their country, and the exploitation of valuable phosphate deposits would be a huge boost to their economy. To this end they encouraged 350,000 settlers to move in to Western Sahara during the 1970s.

Rather than accept this 'invasion', almost half the Saharawis fled to Algeria, who offered them land on this bleak military exercise area to set up temporary camps.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 14
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 60

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