On 31 October 1975, Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara as Spain (the former colonial power) looked on. The Saharawi people were expelled from their homes by force, including the use of napalm. Most fled to the Algerian desert.
Mauritania withdrew its claim to Western Sahara in 1979 and left. But Morocco stayed. The Saharawi people declared their own Republic in exile, which is now recognised by 60 other states. Yet the world still refuses to uphold international law and bring the Occupation to an end.
The Saharawi liberation movement, known as the Polisario Front, fought the Moroccan army for 16 years, reclaiming a small section of their country. In response Morocco built a 1,000-mile long wall, heavily fortified and mined, which divides the Saharawi refugees from those who still live in the Occupied Territories.
Tens of thousands of Saharawi people still live under Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara. Although Saharawis have ruled out terrorism as a political tactic, their lives and activities are severely constricted by a harsh security state.
The Saharawi flag is banned and speaking out for an independent state is illegal. Merely calling for human rights is enough to get organisations closed down and their leaders imprisoned. Yet Saharawis continue to speak out.
Over 500 Saharawi are still ‘disappeared’ in Moroccan custody, possibly surviving as political prisoners. Many have not been heard from for nearly 30 years. Relatives have been imprisoned and tortured for campaigning to know the truth about their fate.
Saharawi workers face greater exploitation than Moroccan settlers. Those who campaign for independent trade unions have been violently mistreated.
A peaceful demonstration in May 2005 led to harsh repression and an uprising in the Occupied Territories. Demonstrators were arrested in large numbers, some receiving over 10-year prison sentences.