President of the Sahrawi League for Democracy and Human Rights, and former member of the polisario separatist front, Hamada El Baihi, provided a damning account of the appalling living conditions in the Tindouf camps, holding Algeria responsible for the ordeal of the camps populations.
Hamada El Baihi, who was participating in a recent debate on the Sahara, surveyed his childhood in the camps and how he had been snatched from his family while he was barely nine and sent to Havana aboard a commercial ship.
Once in Cuba, he was forced to work in a labor camp and was reunited with his family only fourteen years later.
Once back in Tindouf, he was employed at the so-called “international cooperation directorate” of the polisario where he could see firsthand the systematic embezzlement by Algerian and polisario officials of the humanitarian aid destined to the camps population. The most nutritious food was systematically diverted to be sold on the black market in Algeria and some neighboring countries, while the rest is arbitrarily distributed to the impoverished population.
The diversion of humanitarian aid by Algeria and the polisario was repeatedly denounced in reports of several international organizations, notably the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program, and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). All these agencies noted that the embezzlement of humanitarian aid was made possible by the absence of data on the size of the population in the Tindouf camps, due to Algeria’s refusal to allow a census to be conducted in the camps.
The human rights activist, who could no longer stand the oppression and violations prevailing in the camps, managed to flee and returned to Morocco, precisely to the Sahara provinces, where, he said, he found a population fully enjoying its political, economic, social, and cultural rights, a flourishing civil society, and a thriving economy.
He insisted that the polisario, being an armed militia that only subsists through repression and impunity, cannot claim to be the representative of the Sahraouis. He argued that the only representatives of the Sahraoui population are local officials of the Southern Provinces, who have democratic legitimacy.
He also pointed out that only the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative would allow the sequestered populations in Tindouf to put an end to their sufferings and misery, calling the United Nations to act swiftly to settle once and for all the Sahara dispute.