Sahara : The necessity to close the military camps of the sequestered of Tindouf

In an interview to a national daily, Abdelhamid El Ouali, professor at the Faculty of Law in Casablanca and former senior civil servant of the HCR considers that it is necessary to close the refugee camps of Tindouf, in the South of Algeria, as they are military camps kept by the Polisario forces and Algeria and that the peoples called refugees in these camps are kept by the force of arms and the reprisal threat and that they can neither move nor express their wish to live elsewhere. A paradoxical and unique situation in the world as the refugee camps in the whole world benefit from the free choice to move. Moreover, the HCR policy is to end these humanitarian situations by encouraging the peoples, in agreement with the concerned governments, to settle in territories less perturbed by wars or less threatened by fratricide fights and hungers.

In the case of the peoples of refugee camps of Tindouf, the situation and the context are different. The peoples have been moved by force by the Polisario militia, supported by the Algerian army, during the transition stage that followed Spain’s withdrawal from the Sahara, and then they have been transported to Tindouf, in Algeria and kept under armed control, since more than thirty years, as hostages of meanness and down politician calculations! Professor El Ouali insists on the civilian character in the refugees’ camp in order to deserve this qualification and have the right to claim a status in conformity with the international law. In this regard, he reminds of the UN resolutions. Among these resolutions, called in the HCR jargon “conclusions”, there is among others the Conclusion No. 94 of October 8, 2002 that explicitly says that “refugee camps and settlements should have an exclusively civilian and humanitarian character, that the grant of asylum is a peaceful and humanitarian act which should not be regarded as unfriendly by another State” and that “ host States have the primary responsibility to ensure the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum by, inter alia, making all efforts to locate refugee camps and settlements at a reasonable distance from the border, maintaining law and order, curtailing the flow of arms into refugee camps and settlements, preventing their use for the internment of prisoners of war, as well as through the disarmament of armed elements and the identification, separation and internment of combatants”.
It is clear that when reading this HCR resolution/conclusion, Algeria, the host country, does not respect any of the said conditions. On the contrary, Tindouf camps function as a war weapon against Morocco and the peoples are definitely sequestered and taken as hostages by the Algerian power and the Polisario militia working for it.
Though the HCR Executive Committee had condemned the military camps, following in this the Security Council that has, in a series of former resolutions, forbidden the creation of refugee camps that may have a military character, the HCR still has work to do. It shall make a census of the sequestered populations in Tindouf, claim camps demilitarization and refugees’ enjoyment of rights, and firstly the freedom of movement.
Hence, it is urgent that the HCR reviews its policy adopted up to now vis-à-vis the military camps of Tindouf and demeans them as refugee camps, to better manage the political and humanitarian issue of Tindouf camps.
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