“Western Sahara Resource Watch is convinced that the hardships of the Saharawi refugees will continue as long as Morocco continues to illegally profit from the occupation of its neighbouring country”, states Western Sahara Resource Watch on World Refugee Day. The organisation calls on the international community to break the cash-flow from the occupied territories to the Moroccan treasury.
Western Sahara Resource Watch Statement on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2010.
When Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975, tens of thousands of Saharawi fled for their lives to the Algerian desert. Today, 35 years later, these refugees face malnutrition, donor fatigue and oblivion, while Morocco , backed by international commercial interests, continues to profit from the illegal exploitation of Saharawi natural resources.
The Saharawi people have perfected pacifism into an art-form. In 1991, the UN brokered a seize-fire agreement between Morocco and the Frente Polisario, the internationally recognized representative of the Saharawi people. Ever since, the Saharawi have peacefully waited for a negotiated solution that would allow them to return to their homeland. The Saharawi have laid down their arms, trusting their fate into the hands of the international community. Nearly 20 years have gone by and the situation remains as locked as ever. Comfortable in the knowledge of having powerful economic interests emphatically at its side, Morocco has sat back and has watched UN envoys come and go - all of them disgruntled by Morocco ’s incessant defiance of international law and its refusal to budge.
Western Sahara Resource Watch is convinced that the hardships of the Saharawi refugees will continue as long as Morocco continues to illegally profit from the occupation of its neighbouring country. For over 35 years, Morocco has exploited Western Sahara ’s natural resources against the explicit will of the territory’s indigenous population, both in the refugee camps and in the occupied territories. Morocco has successfully induced foreign business interests to participate in what is ultimately theft – the exploitation of an occupied territory’s resources, in disregard of the wishes of the legitimate owners of those resources. The latter don’t even benefit from these business deals, as the gains are poured into furthering Morocco ’s brutal and illegal military occupation.
Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara have been rejected by the International Court of Justice, and are not recognised by the UN or any country. Its occupation of Western Sahara has been condemned by the UN, who still labels Western Sahara a Non-Self Governing Territory pending the process of decolonization.
The companies and many governments involved in the resource exploitation of Western Sahara tend to go out of their way to underline that they do not themselves engage in politics, only in trade. But trade agreements with Morocco covering Western Sahara have of course important political dimensions. The sign of political support offered to Morocco through entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories, is highly inappropriate. “The financial aspect is not necessarily the most important aspect of this agreement. The political aspect is just as important”, stated the Moroccan Minister of Fisheries about the current illegal EU fisheries agreement covering Western Sahara. Giving the aggressor in the conflict such support means rewarding both its unwillingness to solve the issue and its constant defiance of international law.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation for the Saharawi grows ever more acute. The Saharawi people living in the refugee camps in Algeria suffer from donor fatigue and malnutrition. A study from 2008 establishes that 1 in every 5 Saharawi children is malnourished. It is unsettling to note that the annual multilateral aid to the refugee camps is only a small percentage of the massive profits Morocco makes by illegally exploiting the Saharawi resources.
On World Refugee Day, Western Sahara Resource Watch urges the international community to stop turning a blind eye to this persistent injustice. Choosing to look away is also a political choice, as it only strengthens the ongoing and untenable moroccanization of the territory. Furthermore, it is an offense to the Saharawi refugees, who in the face of inhumane hardship have kept their end of the seize-fire bargain, doing exactly what the international community has asked them to do: wait. If the United Nations are truly committed to solving the last unresolved colonial conflict in Africa , breaking the cash-flow from the occupied territories to the occupying regime might be a good place to start.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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