A round table titled "Western Sahara: Through the Perspectives of Youth" was held on 16th of May 2019 in the Grand Hall of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The round table was opened by Simon Dreven, a student at the Faculty of Social Sciences and co-coordinator of the project "The Story of Western Sahara's Forgotten People" who briefly described some of the work that has been done within the framework of this project in the last 5 years. He explained that besides raising awareness, the project also aims at providing humanitarian aid to help Sahrawi refugees.
The facilitator Cvetka Poprask then provided a short overview of the recent history of Western Sahara. This territory is a former Spanish colony, two thirds of which have been occupied by Morocco since 1975. Sixteen years of war between Morocco and the Sahrawi people followed, which caused the Sahrawi to flee their homes and set up refugee camps in Algeria. The war ended in 1991 with a peace agreement under the auspices of the UN promising a referendum of self-determination to the Sahrawi. 28 years later the Sahrawi are still waiting for this promise to be fulfilled.
The keynote speaker was Mr Hamdi Aomar Taubali, who was born and raised in the part of Western Sahara occupied by Morocco. In 2006 he fled to the Sahrawi refugee camps and today he is the representative for external relations of UJSARIO, a Saharawi youth organization. This organisation organises workshops, sports competitions, cultural events and tries to promote engagement of Sahrawi youth everywhere, in the refugee camps, in the occupied territories and in diaspora, in all areas of life, from culture to politics.
Life of the youth in the camps is difficult and education is a particularly big challenge. Luka Miklošič, who visited the camps with an Austrian delegation interested in starting an Erasmus exchange with the University of Tifariti in the liberated territory, said that the university had no courses, no classrooms – the director could carry the whole university »in his pocket.« If Saharawi youth wants to go to university, they need to travel to Cuba, Venezuela, Algeria or other African countries as there are no universities in the camps. When they return, there are often no career opportunities for them. Mr Taubali added that the situation is not much better in the occupied zone, where Morocco hasn't put any effort in building schools. The Sahrawi youth therefore needs to travel to Moroccan cities to get educated. That does not always go smoothly – Mr Taubali shared his personal story; he was arrested on his first day at the university in Marrakesh. All speakers agreed that »knowledge is power« and that it is of utter importance to tackle the issue of education as when Saharawi people return to their land, there will be a need for educated individuals to help build the state of Western Sahara.
When asked to provide a comparison between the youth in Europe and in the refugee camps, Luka Miklošič said that in spite of having considerably less opportunities, Saharawi youth is optimistic about the future and actively engages in activities. They are full of ideas, full of hope. Mr Taublai echoes this sentiment, saying that despite profound lack of resources and funding, the refugee youth is very active and well organized. They have one common dream and one hope: to see their children live in a free land and not suffer the way Saharawi youth is suffering now. In order to achieve that, if necessary, the youth is ready to go back to war.
The round table ended with a discussion on what can be done to help alleviate this difficult situation. The participants implored the audience to not forget about Western Sahara and help raise awareness about this issue among their friends and family. Everybody who wishes to visit the refugee camps and see the situation with their own eyes is welcome to do so. Any ideas on cooperation, projects and initiatives are also appreciated. As Cvetka Poprask put it, let us show that “international solidarity is not dead”.