There are 125,000 of them, living for 40 years in refugee camps. The death of Saharan Brahim Saika rekindles a forgotten fight.
In the depth of our oblivion: that is where the Saharans are. Now I read that on April 15, the Saharan trade unionist Brahim Saika (32) died in a hospital in Agadir (Morocco). Brahim was detained on April 1 when he left his home to participate in a peaceful demonstration. “They took him to the police station of Gulemin, where they tortured him for hours,” informed the Saharan delegation in Spain. Brahim then decided to begin a hunger strike against the mistreatment. I suppose they had left him in a very bad state because only five days later he was in such a grave condition that he was transferred to hospital. Strong and young, he died at an unusual rate, and it appears that the authorities refused to perform an autopsy. I write this four days after his death, and the news has hardly appeared in the mass media, only in some digital sites. I imagine poor Brahim turning to the only extreme weapon that remained to him: death by starvation, hoping that the final denunciation and cry of anguish would be heard. But not even his agony would reach us.
Now I feel like crying out while I write this, for I too had almost wiped out the Saharans from my memory, even though I have been a couple of times in the refugee camps and have always felt very close to their cause, having written twenty-odd reports and articles about them. But the years pass like a pouring of pain and the implacable Moroccan policies of repression and pulverisation, together with an atrocious indifference of the international community, has succeeded in burying alive this tiny, heroic and tenacious people. And the worst part is not just the indifference of the governments but also of the supposedly progressive organisations. A lot is spoken of the Palestinians but of the poor Saharans nobody says anything, though their situation is even more critical. But, clearly, they are only a handful of people without petroleum or geo-strategic interests. Their suffering does not matter to anyone.
Shame. I feel personally ashamed for my forgetting but, above all, feel an infinite collective shame, because Spain is responsible for this situation. We colonised them for almost a century in an indolent way. In all this time, only one Saharan reached the university (to become a doctor). Halfway through 1975, we promised them independence and the poor Saharans believed it. Three months later, on November 14, an agreement was signed in Madrid that divided Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania. We Spaniards pulled back full throttle and the Moroccans brutally invaded Sahara. Everyone who could, men and women, children and the old, fled through the desert without their belongings and with only what they had on themselves, while the Moroccans bombarded them with napalm. In the first week, thousands of children ended up dying from hunger and illnesses. Finally, Algeria offered to put them up in Hamada, which is the most inhospitable desert on the face of the Earth, a stony hell infested with scorpions and vipers. And they still remain there.
There are 125,000 of them, living for forty years in temporary refugee camps. Prudent, peaceful and stoic, they have tried everything short of terrorism and this is how we have rewarded them: with an Olympian disregard for their rights and sufferings. Time and again, Morocco has ignored U.N. resolutions and committed every kind of outrage, but Spain keeps kissing the Moroccan monarchy, so beloved of our Crown. And not only have we never defended the Saharans but we have also have been the major weapons supplier of the Moroccans, the weapons with which they kill them. I don’t even want to think of the desperation that the refugees must feel, in their dark belief that there is no escape: “Morocco is killing us on slow fire”. It may be that some day this suffering will transmute into terrorist violence and then we will condemn them and rub our hands with glee. With them becoming the baddies, our blame will end.