Sahrawi NGO Decries Enslavement of Women in Algeria’s Tindouf Camps

Sahrawi women refugees. Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/Flickr

Rabat – At the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a Sahrawi NGO called attention to the enslavement of women on Algerian soil, in the Polisario-run Tindouf camps. 

The Sahara Center for Studies and Research on Development and Human Rights shed light on the issue on Wednesday within the framework of a UNHRC discussion on slavery.

The president of the NGO, Shaibata Mrabih Rabou, argued that women in the Tindouf camps suffer “serious violence and practices of slavery degrading their dignity,” according to Morocco’s state media. 

“Slavery has become a general and common phenomenon in these camps, according to many international human rights agencies,” he stressed. 

Various reports and testimonies, Rabou continued, have exposed that “women in these camps live in a kind of slavery and servitude, and pay exorbitant taxes while supporting, in silence, all forms of deprivation.”

The mistreatment and abuse of women living in the Tindouf camps include “rape, forced childbirth, and detention against their will,” Rabou said. 

Some mothers have seen “their children deported at a young age without their consent, to other countries where they are subjected to brainwashing and ideological supervision contrary to their religion and their culture,” he continued.

Despite UN resolutions and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women prohibiting these practices, “Algeria and the armed militias of the Polisario continue to denigrate the most basic rights of women in flagrant violation of international law.”

The human rights expert appealed to the UNHRC and the international community “to put an end to the violations of women’s rights in these camps where the culture of impunity reigns.”

Algeria’s responsibility for Tindouf rights violations

The Sahrawi activist has long drawn attention to human rights abuses in the Tindouf camps. 

During his appearance on the citizen-run “Sahara Debate” in June, Rabou said the Polisario Front deprives people living inside the Tindouf camps of basic rights. Tindouf residents lack the right to decent employment, the right to food and medicine, and the right to freedom of movement.

Algeria alone bears responsibility for the atrocities that unfold on its own soil in Tindouf, Rabou argued. Algeria refuses to permit a census inside the Tindouf camps, in violation of “the provisions of international humanitarian law, especially the Refugee Status Convention of 1951 and in defiance of the resolutions adopted by the Security Council since 2011,” he underlined. 

The Algerian army controls the camps’ entrances as well as residents’ ability to obtain travel documents, making it next to impossible for non-Polisario personnel to leave. Tindouf is thus home not to refugees but a “sequestrated population” deprived of freedom and rights, according to Rabou. 

European leaders call for action against Polisario

Several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have spotlighted the same infractions in Tindouf. In particular, MEPs this year repeatedly called on the EU to investigate Polisario’s ongoing diversion of humanitarian aid intended to benefit the camps’ residents. 

MEPs have also urged action to end the “unacceptable, “scandalous,” and “deplorable” situation of women living in the Tindouf camps. 

In 2018, MEPs called on the EU to pay attention to these women, who are victims of Polisario abuses “with the complicity of Algeria.”

Spanish MEPs Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, Ayala Sender, Rosa Estaras, and Josep-Maria Terricabras condemned forced marriages, deprivation of liberty, ill-treatment, and torture of women in the Tindouf camps. 

The condemnation accompanied a petition from Spanish activist Elisa Pavon on behalf of the “Freedom is their right” campaign, a collective of foster and adoptive families in Spain that take in Sahrawi girls and women.

The MEPs and the European External Action Service (EEAS) called on the Algerian and Spanish governments to take action, emphasizing that several girls suffering abuse in Tindouf have Spanish citizenship.
Years later, it seems as though the various international calls to actions have fallen on deaf ears. Human rights abuses in Tindouf at the hands of the Polisario Front are unyielding, and women in the camps continue to report violence and depravity.