In Algeria, the Saharawi refugees detained in Tindouf camps controlled by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front are denied their basic human rights of freedom of speech, expression, and association. They cannot move freely between the camps and are prevented from leaving Tindouf without the express permission of the Polisario leadership.
In the Tindouf camps, the Saharawis are located in five separate camps, positioned between 30km and 172 km separately. Husbands, wives, and siblings are separated. Children are removed from their parents' care within the camps and then sent to Cuba for many years. While in Cuba, they loose contact with their families, and are often exploited and put to work in domestic service, factories, agriculture and given military training. Women and the elderly are compelled to carry out forced manual labour in extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter.
The camp system is cruel, with penalties and intimidation used to keep control and ensure conformity with the Polisario's edicts. Dissent is publically punished, and torture and imprisonment are commonplace. Children are forced to watch the public punishment of their parents. Many Saharawis would like to leave Tindouf but cannot.Those who express such a desire find their family members have been moved to other camps and/or their children sent to Cuba. This effectively ensures that they remain in the camps, as hostages, and that they continue to comply with the Polisario's regime and dictates, while waiting and hoping to be re-united with their spouses and/or children.
Some Saharawi refugees managed to escape from the camps and described the hardships and cruelty which exists in the camps. They attest to the corruption of the Polisario leadership and their use of financial and material assistance.
Much of the food and medicine donated by NGOs to benefit the refugees does not reach them, but is instead sold in the markets of North African countries such as Mali, Mauritania ,and Algeria to raise money to purchase weapons and ammunition. Mr. Hans R. Wittewer the Representative of the International of Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRCC) said “funds destined to the Sahraoui program, in the form of advances coming from the World Food Program and the European Union which were earmarked to cover the cost of transportation and custom’s duties have instead been used to purchase airline tickets for travel abroad by the Polisario leadership.”
According to the latest report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its offshoots in the Sahel are already working to expand their partnership with smugglers from massive refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, and to enlist recruits among the disenchanted youth there. If Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb strengthened its alliance of convenience with the Polisario, a formidable terrorist organization could emerge."
Morocco’s proposal for autonomy for the Sahara is the he first step toward a solution, as Carnegie's Anouar Boukhars reports.