Daughters of the clouds
This photographic essay focuses on the everyday life of the Western Sahara people who fled in exile to Algeria after the Moroccan occupation of their country in 1975.
After forty years in exile, in 2016 nearly 200,000 refugees are struggling to survive in this inhospitable part of the Great Desert.
The on-going conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara started in 1975 when Spain finished his sovereignty in the Western Sahara. As Spanish colonial forces began to leave the former colony, Morocco and Mauritanian troops entered the territory forcing the exodus of Saharawi people towards Tindouf, in the border Algeria where the refugee camps are formed.
Mauritania withdrew from the territory but the fighting between Morocco and Polisario (army forces against the Morocco and Mauritania occupation) lasted until 1991 following an UN intervention to negotiate a ceasefire. Since then, the refugees have been waiting for an UN-supervised referendum, which will determine the independence or integration with Morocco.
A 1,553 miles wall built by Moroccans in 1980 separates the country and its people; Families were divided and never seen each other again. Those who remained in their homeland faced secretly detentions or disappearance, held without trial, torture and death at the hands of Moroccan occupying forces.
The families displaced to Algeria faced the extreme environmental conditions with temperatures passing fifty degrees in summer time and frequent sand storms. The lack food, water and medicines made them to rely on international humanitarian aid.
The task of creating a new life in exile fell to women as men are defending the liberated zones of Western Sahara. The family is reunited once every two months when the men return to the camps for a twenty days break.
Women have formed organized camps structures for health systems, education and also play an important role in the political process. In addition, they have to raise the family with an average between four to six children at the age of thirty-five.
New generations born in exile have the opportunity to study abroad as education is very important for the Saharawi people. The programmes funded by countries as Libya, Cuba or Algeria allows the children to study a degree but they return to the camps after finish their studies. They are also a generation confused by the limited possibilities and difficult living conditions.
The elder generations are aching to return to the beauty of their lands and their strength remains in the determination of people who have not given up hope to being reunited with their families again.