Peggy Ickenroth

Photographer and Videographer
Behind The Wall, life of the Sahrawi
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Nationality: Dutch
Biography: Exhibitions International Photo Festival Leiden, The Netherlands, 2018 Head On Photo Festival Sydney, Australia, 2018 Photoville (with International Photo Festival Leiden), Brooklyn, USA, 2017 Biennale Dei Giovani Fotografi Italiani at the Centro... MORE
Public Story
Behind The Wall, life of the Sahrawi
Copyright Peggy Ickenroth 2022
Updated Mar 2016
Location Tindouf, Algeria
Topics Abandonment, Children, Civil Rights, Civil Wars, Community, Desert, Disability, Discrimination, Documentary, Emotion, Freedom, Hope, Human Rights, Isolation, Landscape, Minority, ongoing conflict, Peace, Photography, Photojournalism, Politics, Portraiture, Poverty, Protests, sahrawi, Veterans, Weapons, Western Sahara

The Sahrawis are the original inhabitants of Western Sahara, a country at the African northwest coast. The sea of Western Sahara is full of fish and it's land is full of phosphates, but the Sahrawis are forced to live in 'temporary refugee camps' (as far as you can call 40 years temporary) in the Algerian desert since the Moroccan invasion in 1975.

The issue has remained unresolved for the last 4 decades, therefore they try to move on as much as possible, for example by building hospitals, school and stone houses. In 1981 the Moroccans have started to build a wall of 2720 km that is surrounded with thousands of landmines and separates Western Sahara from Algeria and Mauritania to avoid infiltration of the Fronte Polisario, the political Movement for the self-determination of the Sahrawi.

Being forced to live in the desert means no possibility to grow grain, vegetables or any other food that would create a minimum of independence. Instead they completely rely on humanitarian help for food, medicines, clothes, money etc. But for the last eight years, since the economic crisis started, and now with new conflicts like the ones in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza Strip and the kidnapping in Rabuni of three aid workers in 2011, the Sahrawis have seen a huge decrease of humanitarian help.

Still today they have almost no electricity network and no running water, creating many sanitary problems. In the summer the sun is unbearable and in the winter the sandy wind causes health problems like asthma, bronchitis or eye problems. The only electricity they have derives from a solar panel that allows them to charge their cell phone (they do have reception in the camps) or to watch a small TV for two hours. They don't have refrigerators and almost no internet, isolating them even more from the rest of the world.

The desert offers no hope for the future. There are no jobs and the education is very basic. There are primary schools but most of them don't even have books but only notebooks. If children want to continue to study they have to go far away from their families to Algeria or Cuba. At this point they see what a real life looks like and it becomes very difficult to go back. It is not stimulating at all to go back to the refugee camps after the children finish their studies, since there are almost no decent jobs in the desert, besides becoming a primary school teacher, a bricklayer or a goat or dromedary herder.
Most of the people spend their time at home with their families, drinking tea and looking after the kids, waiting for a better future.

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