- A new survey made among hundreds of 17 to 35 year old Saharawis living in the desolate refugee camps in Algeria reveals that almost nine out of ten desire a visa to a foreign country to be able to emigrate. Potential migrants were dreaming about improved material standards, access to medical treatment and even availability of entertainment and plain fun - all being scarce among young Saharawis.
"It is really a stupid waste of time to ask such a question to any young Saharawi, who has suffered from marginalisation, because a visa is our only dream left ..." is the answer from "Said", one of the young men living in the Algerian refugee camps, where the majority of the population of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara lives since 1976. Together with 540 other youngsters, he was interviewed by the independent newspaper 'Futuro Saharaui', asked what he thought about emigrating.
Asked whether they "would like to get a visa" to be able to emigrate, 470 out of the 540 Saharawis in the 17 to 35 year old group answered the same way as "Said" - "yes". This amounts to 87 percent of young Saharawis. The survey included all layers of the Saharawi refugee society: intellectuals, students, pupils, civil servants of the exiled Western Sahara government, workers, unemployed and even businessmen and employers. The desire to migrate was strong in all groups.
In a follow-up question, those desiring a visa were also asked why they wanted to migrate. Reasons given were ample, sometimes demonstrating a wide discontent with the situation in the camps. One young man said: "Yes, I would like to obtain a visa, but please leave me more space than one line to sum up my reasons."
Good life, material goods, a better standard of living, medical treatments or just fun - all these were reasons given by those who want to escape the current reality on this side of the wall, to be able to shake off the Saharan sands after so many years in exile under very difficult conditions.
One of the youngsters said: "I for my sake have done it all - working for the system, working on my own behalf, the black market, even doing nothing - and every time I have ended up with bitter failure, so there really remains no other choice than looking for a passport and a visa ..." Another says: "Today I'm hurt by seeing my old friends bragging about nice cars and happy lives, and I'm just straying around not even having sufficient money to buy a cigarette. And you - you'd ask me to stay? In the same moment there appears a possibility, I'm going to leave and I don't care whereto, because here, there is nothing I feel attached to."
On the other hand, a young woman holding a university degree says she is growing tired of waiting for an employment in the camps, and now depends on the aid from humanitarian organisations. Other options are only partial remedies that always end up in hopes and dreams that are impossible to reach, she said. Therefore, also she looks for a possible way to obtain a visa, saying that Spain, the ex-colonial power, would be her preferred destination.
But there were also opposite views. One young man says he has already been cured from the European dream by his own experiences in Spain, where he got bitter and frustrated by living so far away from his loved ones. Also he holds a university degree and he had planned to find a job relevant to his studies as he grabbed an opportunity to go to Spain. During his six-year stay there, he worked as a tomato picker, in construction and finally in a café on the holiday resort island Mallorca.
"There is only misery there," he concludes. "For that reason, I prefer to live in the middle of nowhere with my family and the sons of my fatherland, and I curse the breads from abroad, be it from Spain or otherwise. God's own paradise is found in these lands, but it is only there for them," he says bitterly.
The survey was part of a series of investigations by 'Futuro Saharaui' to look into the facts behind emigration and try to get the attention of responsible Saharawi politicians on this dangerous matter, which affects the exiled state and government in a grave way. No state official however wanted to comment on this issue before printing deadline.
Salek Saluh, the 'Futuro Saharaui' reporter who conducted the survey, says the widespread problem to a large degree in the fault of Western Sahara authorities, because they do "not incorporate the tens of youngsters that finish their studies every year into formal labour, making these people looking for other opportunities, and even migrating to other places, given that the society to which they belong does not offer them the same possibilities."
"For example, those of us with education do not understand - or actually nobody understands - how we can be given less opportunities than those belonging to the lineage of the so-called 'patriots' and their relatives," Mr Saluh adds, referring to advantages given to family members of the ruling Polisario movement.
"This regime is unfit to offer employment to its youth and really incapable of convincing them to stay behind its lines - this unfortunately is the most extended opinion among the majority today," the reporter concludes, warning of a disaster for an unstable state, governing an estimated 200,000 refugees in exile.
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