Refugees in Algeria yearn for homeland in Western Sahara

Salembouh and Ahmed Moulay Dadi in their house at the Boujdour camp for Sahrawi refugees on the outskirts of Tindouf, southwest of Algeria. Some 100,000 Sahrawi refugees live today in the camps around Tindouf. (AFP)
Updated 04 November 2017

Refugees in Algeria yearn for homeland in Western Sahara

BOUJDOUR CAMP, Algeria: Selembouha Dadi can only imagine the homeland she dreams of but has never seen, agonizingly out of reach beyond the Algerian refugee camp where she has spent her whole life.
“They tell me it was beautiful,” the 25-year-old said.
The territory that Dadi yearns for is Western Sahara, a sprawling swathe of desert on Africa’s Atlantic coast that has been disputed by Morocco and independence fighters from the Polisario Front for decades.
Her father Moulay abandoned everything and fled 42 years ago when Moroccan troops arrived in 1975 during the rush to claim the former Spanish colony as Madrid let it go.
Now, along with tens of thousands of other refugees, their family of nine lives in one of a string of refugee camps just 50 kilometers away, beyond the Algerian border and a “defense wall” erected by Morocco in the 1980s.
Morocco and Mauritania were meant to share Western Sahara when Spain relinquished control, but in 1976 the Polisario proclaimed the independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic — and was determined to fight for it.
Mauritania in 1979 gave up its claim, leaving Morocco to seize most of the 266,000 square kilometer territory, but it was not until 1991 that a UN-backed cease-fire came into force.
Rabat considers Western Sahara an integral part of Morocco and proposes autonomy for the resource-rich territory, but the Algerian-backed Polisario Front insists on a United Nations-backed referendum on independence.
The 2,700-kilometer barrier erected by Morocco slicing from north to south divides the 80 percent of Western Sahara controlled by Morocco from the 20 percent held by the Polisario.
Moulay Dadi, 72, served tea in a large traditional tent, a vestige of the Sahrawis’ nomadic past, and cooler than the nearby family cottage with its zinc roof.
He recalled his life back in his desert homeland herding the family’s animals. He was 30 when the Moroccan forces arrived.
“We fled and we left everything behind us, our animals, our property, the houses,” he said.
“We left everything behind us.”
He settled in Algeria’s Tindouf region with his wife and parents, who did not live to see their homeland again.
Some 100,000 Sahrawi refugees live today in the camps around Tindouf. They belong to a mosaic of nomadic tribes who have for centuries plied the sandy expanses of the Sahara with their camels.
The Dadi family’s Boujdour camp, which, like the other camps, bears the name of an area of the Western Sahara controlled by Morocco, is dotted with brown-walled houses the color of the surrounding desert, one of the most inhospitable in the world.
Their home consists of a large living room, a small dining room and a kitchen. The shower and toilets are in a separate building.
There is intermittent electricity and no running water. Trucks pass regularly to fill a large canvas water reservoir.
Like the Dadis, many Sahrawis have set up traditional tents next to their houses in the camp, where life moves slowly.
After the morning prayer, Selembouha Dadi and her mother, in her sixties, cook and clean.
The youngest of the children, 12-year-old Mellah, goes to school.
Some of her brothers work on building sites and the others are in the army of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Sahrawi refugees in Algeria live mostly on funds from exiled relatives in Europe and on international aid.
The EU provides some, $11.6 million a year, despite the Polisario Front being accused of embezzlement in recent years.
Some residents have set up small shops — groceries, bakeries, fruit and vegetable stalls — in the camps.
Others work as officials for the SADR, which has its central administration in Rabouni, not far from Tindouf.
Isolated for decades and largely forgotten by the world, many Sahrawis still believe that they will one day return to the lands of their ancestors.
“We want our land whatever we find there,” Selembouha said.


Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

Updated 23 November 2020

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

  • Antony Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden
  • Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.
In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.
Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.
Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.