Dawn in the Algerian hamada and a caravan of activists, politicians and journalists arrive at the Bojador camp (Tindouf). Around 250 people have arrived this Monday through the first flight organized by the Polisario Front since the start of the pandemic. After the return to arms against Morocco, it is the first time that the press has been able to speak with the Sahrawi refugees, whose long wait for their return to their country is the backdrop to the Spanish-Moroccan crisis of last May.
Sahrawi refugees, faced with the diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco: “We feel abandoned”
The delegation, made up of members of solidarity organizations with Western Sahara, Sahrawi citizens of the diaspora who want to visit their families, Polisario Front staff and Spanish politicians, are accompanied by 47 national and international journalists and photojournalists.
Among them are BBC informants, The Economist, Der sppiegel, Associated Press, Radio France International, Public from Portugal or Mediapart. Among the Spanish media, in addition to elDiario.es, they are doing their first interviews with Sahrawi refugees El País, Público, La Vanguardia and El Independiente, in addition to several journalists freelance.
In the long press list, the names of three workers from TVE and a journalist from RNE still appear. Despite the fact that they had already confirmed the trip and had carried out the procedures related to their presence on the flight, they have finally not been able to do their work in the Sahrawi refugee camps.
This Friday, RTVE’s management decided to veto the attendance of its journalists on the trip to Tindouf. According to a statement from the workers’ representatives, those responsible considered that the trip was “on the part”, as it was organized by the Polisario Front. In addition, they maintained that the moment was “delicate”. The decision has led to the resignation of those responsible for the International areas of TVE and RNE.
RTVE has issued a statement in which it assures that “what has been rejected, in compliance with the spirit established by its Information statute, is to accept trips organized and paid for by interested sources.”
Supported by the media
The interest that has arisen in the press to travel to the refugee camps on this flight has been higher than that used by the Polisario Front, according to the party’s delegate in Spain. The possibility of interviewing the president Brahim Ghali, after the controversial humanitarian reception of the Spanish Government to be treated for a serious condition caused by the coronavirus and the entry of thousands of people through Ceuta in full diplomatic tensions with Morocco; the interest in knowing the details of the return to arms against Morocco after 30 years of ceasefire; as well as documenting the situation of the Sahrawi refugees, who have been in exile for 45 years after the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, are some of the reasons.
It is not a trip created by and for the press, but rather a solidarity flight joined by a group of journalists to cover the situation in the camps. Only 47 of the around 250 people who landed in Tindouf on Monday work in an activity related to the press. The expenses of the flight and the stay in the camps have not been borne by the Polisario Front, but have been borne by the media or the participating freelance journalists, who sleep in the same jaimas or houses of Sahrawi refugee families.
An inhospitable place
During the trip, there is no closed schedule of interviews for the attending informants, but rather each journalist has prepared the list of topics that they would like to discuss and moves through the camps they will visit (Bojador and Dakhla) with freedom, although their movements and The ability to get certain interviews depends on the availability of transportation from the Polisario Front and the difficulties associated with the territory.
If needed, the media can request the support of an interpreter, provided by the Polisario Front, which supports a group of about four journalists. Translation and transport costs are also paid for by each means of communication.
This Tuesday is the celebration of the Saharawi National Unity. It coincides with October 12, but it does not celebrate “hispanidad”: it claims self-determination in the face of Spanish colonialism and the subsequent Moroccan occupation. During the holiday, traditional concerts and parades are held that, due to the pandemic, could not be carried out last year. Journalists can decide whether to cover these celebrations or find their own stories.
It is not easy to travel to refugee camps independently, especially in a pandemic. To get to the camps by plane, a group of houses – mostly made of adobe – built in the drylands of the Algerian desert, it is necessary to fly to a military base in Tindouf.
To do this, you must have a visa requested from the Polisario Front Delegation in Spain, and the approval of the Algerian authorities. At this time, it is more difficult to achieve it due to the limitations for the control of the coronavirus. A charter flight, such as the one organized by the Polisario Front, facilitates the trip to this inhospitable point and the procedures related to the visa.