domingo, 12 de abril de 2009
International visitors prepare for march against the "Wall of Shame" in the Western Sahara
Hundreds of Spanish visitors spent the evening hours on Thursday making final preparations for their march of protest and solidarity in front of the Moroccan-built wall that divides the Western Sahara in two.
Lunches were made, bags were packed, and orientation sessions were held to make sure that all of the participants were ready for Friday’s events, organized and coordinated by the National Union of Saharawi Women (UNMS).
These 300 Spaniards have signed up to make the two-hour trip, but several hundred more – from Germany, Italy, Great Britain, the United States, France, Austria, Portugal, El Salvador, Mexico and other countries – will be accompanying them as they demonstrate their opposition to the Moroccan occupation in the Western Sahara and the physical barrier erected between the Saharawi refugees near Tindouf, Algeria, and their family members still living in the territory occupied by Morocco.
After three days of conferences, meetings, celebrations and informational sessions, the participants are hoping that the culmination of their visit to the Saharawi refugee camps – their 2 km march in front of the 2,500 km-long sand embankment – will help to raise international awareness and show their solidarity with the Saharawi people.
"I think that’s what everyone is wishing for," said Maria, a Spanish journalist from Castellón. "Hopefully the march will get some international media coverage, and more people will become interested in the situation here in the Western Sahara."
The making of a protest
"Planning the trip was not easy," said Mariano Gonzalez, one of the protest’s main organizers.
Gonzalez is one of the members of a small group of Spanish students who have given themselves the name Saharawi Conscience. The group took up the task of planning the march, following in the footsteps of Willpower and Determination, a group of students from Madrid that arranged a similar protest in 2008, which was known as the Column of 1,000.
"I was a part of the Column of 1,000 last year, and we wanted to make sure that more Spaniards had the opportunity to take part in this experience," insisted Gonzalez. "Many people have come without having any idea of the real situation here, but most of them will become more politically involved after their five days in the camps.
"For me, the first time I saw the wall, I felt a mix of anger, indignation and hope," explained the Gonzalez. "Anger that the Saharawis have to undergo such suffering, indignation at our government for not assuming its international responsibilities and hope that our protest would help raise some awareness."
Noting that the majority of the Spanish population supports a referendum on Saharawi independence – for which the United Nations has expressed its support in dozens of resolutions – Gonzalez expressed his desire for more action from the international community.
"We are calling on the international community to take on their responsibilities, show their respect for justice and listen to the oppressed people of the world."
A march with an international flavour
In addition to the 300 Spaniards who have signed up for the march in front of the Moroccan wall, estimates as to the total number of international visitors in the camps run as high as 2,000. Arriving in 18 specially-charted flights, the travelers have come to visit Saharawi families they have lived with in years past, to share a few days with the Saharawi people for the first time or to participate in the protest march.
"Holy Week is when most Europeans have the time to come visit us in the camps," said Aishatu, a young Saharawi woman who works in the National Archive in the camp of Rabouni, "but I have never seen this many at once."
Participants will leave Rabouni at 7 am on Friday morning in Saharawi trucks and vans, and they will arrive in what is known to Saharawis as the Liberated Zone of the Western Sahara – for it is currently under the control of the Polisario Front, the leaders of the Saharawi movement for independence – at approximately 9 am. They will then march 2 km, waving flags of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and carry banners expressing their opposition to the Wall of Shame and their support for the Saharawi people’s peaceful struggle for independence.
Saharawi Conscience was able to organize the march with the help of the Saharawi Youth Union (UJSARIO), the National Saharawi Women’s Union (UNMS), the Polisario Front, the coordinator of Friends of the Saharawi People (a network of NGOs in Spain), and Willpower and Determination.