Saturday, September 27, 2008

Young Western Saharan refugees build for the future in Cuba

Source: UNHCR

Young Western Saharan refugees build for the future in Cuba
24 Sep 2008 13:50:26 GMT
Source: UNHCR

Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.

HAVANA, Cuba, September 24 (UNHCR) – The plight of the Sahrawi is one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world, but over the past quarter century a few thousand have been allowed to leave their desert camps in Algeria and study in a Caribbean island paradise.

Hafdala, Mehdi and Hababa are just three of the estimated 3,000 young Sahrawis who have received a secondary and tertiary education in Cuba . Currently, 175 young refugees are studying courses at the Cuban-Sahrawi Friendship School on the Isla de la Juventad (Isle of Youth). A further 358 are at universities or vocational taining centres across the island republic.

The Cuban government covers the cost of their tuition, board and health care, while the refugees study the same curricula as Cuban students. The UN refugee agency helps fund extra items such as soap, toothpaste, sheets and towels. UNHCR also monitors their protection needs and helps some of the students to return to Algeria at the end of their studies.

Although they return to exile, the education that they receive in Cuba will put them in a good position to build new lives once a durable solution has been found for the tens of thousands of Sahrawis living under harsh conditions in five border camps near Algeria's border with the Western Sahara territory.

The Sahrawis began fleeing Western Sahara in 1975 during a conflict over the right to govern the territory when Spain withdrew from the region. UNHCR supports some 90,000 of the most vulnerable refugees. This support includes providing a basic education for the Sahrawi children, most of whom were born in Algeria and have never stepped foot in their homeland.

"We attended school in the camps, but only until junior high school, and even at this level there were not enough opportunities for everyone," notes Hafdala. "For this reason, many young Sahrawi refugees have to go to other countries such as Algeria , Mauritania , Spain and Cuba to continue their education," he adds.

Mehdi jumped at the chance to study in Cuba . "I knew that many Sahrawis had obtained university degrees in this country and I wanted to do the same," he says. "Although it's hard being so far away from relatives, my parents gave permission because they also want the best for my future. Now we see that the sacrifice is worth it."

The Sahrawi students have been thriving, understanding that a good education could be their ticket to a happy and prosperous future in freedom. Mehdi and Hafdala, both aged 18 and in their final year of secondary school, were the only overseas students to win prizes in Cuba 's Spanish-language contest this year.

Hafdala, whose particular loves are the theatre and writing poetry and short stories, has also won several awards in national environmental contests. "I am interested in the environment because I have lived in the desert, which is continuously expanding because of the damage caused by man. We must convey the message so we can leave a better world to future generations."

Nineteen-year-old medical student Hababa, meanwhile, won a prize two years ago in an annual reading contest on the literary works of José Martí (1853-1895), regarded as Cuba 's national hero and apostle of independence. "Martí was not simply a Cuban, but a man of universal significance, and his thinking still has great relevance," Hababa asserts.

Despite his passion for literature, Hababa is determined to become a doctor. "Studying medicine will give me the opportunity to be useful to my community, either in the Tindouf camps [of Algeria ] or once we return to our homeland."

A small group of Sahrawi instructors ensure that the young refugees do not forget their roots. They organize activities reinforcing Sahrawi culture and traditions. The Sahrawis can also practise their Islamic religion, including the current fasting month of Ramadan.

Once they complete their secondary education, those who have done well enough at the Cuban-Sahrawi Friendship School – like Hababa – can continue their studies at various higher education centres throughout the country.

The Sahrawis appreciate the support they have received from both the Cuban government and UNHCR, and most of them are optimistic about the future. "We know that many refugees do not have the opportunities that have been given to us; for this reason we will continue studying to be in a better position to offer the same solidarity to those who need it," says Hafdala.

By Alberto Aragón in Havana , Cuba

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Another Bloody Massacre in Semara City in the Occupied Territory

الانتقام الأعمى.. بالسمارة المحتلة

في محاولة من الغزاة المغاربة لإسكات صوت أبطال انتفاضة الاستقلال البواسل بالسمارة المحتلة، تفذ الأوغاد المحتلين ليلة البارحة 21/09/2008 ابتداءا من الساعة العاشرة حملة قمع دموية: حيث اعتقل العشرات ونكل بالعشرات وفرضت حالة الطوارئ بالمدينة.
وهذه قائمة أولية بأسماء المعتقلين:
1-*عبداتي بن علال : اعتقل من منزل أهل سلكي حيث تم تعذيبه بشدة من طرف كبار الجلادين حيث أصيب بكسر على مستوى اليد ولم يتمكن الأطباء من وضع الجبص على الكسر نظرا لتورم الساعد ،كما أصيب بكدمات حادة في مختلف أنحاء جسمه و أفاد انه قد تم تعليقه لساعات طويلة.( الصور).
2-*الشيخي ابراهيم : عذب بوحشية وأفادت أنباء عن نقله الى المستشفى في حالة خطيرة ،وقد تم اعتقاله من أمام منزله لينقل إلى وجهة مجهولة.
3-*غالي منصور : اعتقل من شارع النصر وأطلق سراحه حوالي الساعة الخامسة صباحا وهو لا يقوى على الحركة .
4-*لعبيدي السالك عبد الودود: اعتقل وعذب بدوره.
5-*المحفوظ السالك عبد الودود:إصابات مختلفة.
6-*محمود كديري: إصابات خطيرة في مختلف أنحاء الجسم.
7-*ددي محمد ولد صالح : اعتقل وعنف داخل سيارة تابع للقمع المغربي.
8-*احمد محمد ولد الصالح: تم اعتقاله وتعذيبه بعد نقله الى مخفر القمع المغربي .
9-*احمد لعبيد البشير : اعتقل حوالى الواحدة ليلا من شارع النصر، أفرج عنه بإصابات بالغة على مستوى الظهر .
10-*الزاوي فكاك: اعتقل قرب السوق الصغير وعذب قي مكان اعتقاله ونقل الى وجهة مجهولة.
11* حمى الخيل ولد المحجوب: واعتقل قرب السوق الصغير ونكل به.
12-*محمد صالح بوحنانة.
13-*محمد امبارك ولد محمد صالح بادة.
14-* الحسين ولد ابية تعرض لاعتقال أطلق سراحه فيما بعد .
كما تم الاعتداء على مجوعة من المواطنات الصحراويات :
· الناشطة الحقوقية: النكية بوخرص إصابة على مستوى الوجه وردود على أنحاء الجسم كما تمت مصادرة هاتفها النقال.
· متو بابوزيد : صفعات ولكمات على الأطراف وتمت مصادرة هاتفها النقال.
· الناهة منت سلكي: إصابة على مستوى الرقبة.
· فركانة منت سلكي :إصابة على مستوى الذراع
· هند افظيلي محمد صالح البار: دخلت في مشادات مع فرقة قمعية بعد الاعتداء عليها ونهب هاتفها النقال وبعض النقود.
· متو افظيلي محمد صالح البار.
وأثناء حملة الاعتقالات و التنكيل هذه تم مداهمة المنازل التالية:
*منزل أهل سلكي حيث عذب أبو العائلة وهو طريح الفراش .
*منزل أهل لبات بحي الطنطان.
*منزل اهل اعلى ولد النفاع دوهم حوالي الساعة الواحدة والنصف بحثا عن ابن العائلة خطور النفاع ومجموعة من أبطال الانتفاضة.
*منزل أهل بي قرب مندوبية النقل حيث عذبت بداخله بعض النساء الصحراويات.
وتبقى هذه اللائحة بأسماء الضحايا و المنازل المداهمة أولية : حيث إن عدد المعتقلين تجاوز العشرين معتقلا اغلبهم اعتقل من شارع النصر وحي الطنطان الصامد.
وقد تم إطلاق سراح المعتقلين المذكورين أعلاه وهنا أنباء متضاربة عن وجود مجموعة من الشباب الصحراوي الثائر داخل معتقلات العدو المغربي بالسمارة المحتلة .ومع حلول الصباح تحولت منازل الضحايا إلى محج للجماهير الصحراوية من اجل مؤازرتهم والرفع من معنوياتهم ، فيما لا زالت حملة الاعتقالات مستمرة إلى الان حيث علمنا منذ قليل بمداهمة منزل بحي السلام الصامد واعتقل الأخوة المتوكل.

رغم القمع رغم السجون ***سنظل صامدين

السمارة المحتلة
يوم 22/09/2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Minatou Haidar Awarded the Robert Kennedy Foundation Award for Human Rights

For Immediate Release:Contact: Jeffrey Buchanan (202) 463-7575 ext 241
Western Sahara Human Rights Defender wins 2008 RFK Human Rights AwardAminatou Haidar to be presented with RFK Human Rights Award for her campaign on behalf of the self-determination of Western Sahara and against government abuses and disappearances of prisoners of conscious. The ceremony will take place in Washington, D.C the morning of November 13th, in the Russell Senate Office Building’s Caucus Room.
Washington DC, September 16th, 2008--- Aminatou Haidar is the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate. Ms. Haidar is being recognized for her courageous campaign for self-determination of Western Sahara from its occupation by Morocco and against forced disappearances and abuses of prisoners of conscious. Regularly referred to as the “Sahrawi Gandhi,” Ms. Haidar is one of Western Sahara’s most prominent human rights defenders.
“For me, as an individual, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award represents a great honor. As a Sahrawi human rights activist, I consider it recognition that the cause of the Sahrawi people is just and legitimate and that our non-violent resistance is noble and righteous, in spite of the risks and the intimidation of the Moroccan authorities,” said Aminatou Haidar. “The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award will provide constructive support to the struggle of the Sahrawi people for liberty and human dignity.”
"I congratulate Aminatou Haidar for receiving this honor. All who care about democracy, human rights, and the rule of law for the people of the Western Sahara are inspired by her extradorinary courage, dedication and skilled work on their behalf," said Senator Edward Kennedy. Senator Kennedy has been an outspoken champion of Western Sahara in the U.S. Senate for over two decades.
Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy will preent Ms. Haidar with the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award in a public ceremony sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy the morning of November 13th, 2008 in the Russell Senate Office Building’s Caucus Room. Stay tuned to for details.
“Aminatou Haidar has shown extraordinary courage and heroic leadership for human rights in Western Sahara, one of the forgotten corners of the world and the last colony in Africa. Her nonviolent struggle for the freedom and dignity of her people reflects the kind of leadership that Robert Kennedy most admired, and that his brother, Ted Kennedy, has long supported,” said John Shattuck, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, current CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, and RFK Human Rights Award Judge.
Once a Spanish colony, Western Sahara has been under strict military control by the Kingdom of Morocco since its invasion in 1975. The region has experienced an extended conflict between Moroccan military and the Sahrawi ("Saharawi") independence group, the Polisario Front. In response to the International Court of Justice’s rejection of Morocco’s claims of sovereignty in the region, the Polisario Front, in 1976, proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as Western Sahara’s legitimate government in exile.
In 1988, the kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to settle the dispute through a UN-administered referendum that would allow the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence or integration with Morocco. The vote still has not been held. A UN-administered ceasefire has been in place since 1991. In 2007, the United Nations began facilitating peace talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front, but talks have stalled over disagreements including who qualifies to participate in the potential referendum and whether full independence is an option for Sahrawis.
Ms. Haidar is part of a younger generation of Sahrawi leaders working through non-violent means to organizing peaceful demonstrations in support of the referendum and to denounce the human rights abuses on both sides of the conflict. Her peaceful efforts have been met with increased police aggression and brutality. In 1987, at the age of 21, Ms. Haidar was one of 700 peaceful protestors arrested for participating in a rally in support of a referendum. Later she was “disappeared” without charge or trial and held in secret detention centers for four years, where she and 17 other Sahrawi women were tortured. In 2005, the Moroccan police detained and beat her after another peaceful demonstration. She was released after 7 months, thanks to international pressure from groups like Amnesty International and the European Parliament.
Since then Ms. Haidar has traveled the globe to expose the Moroccan military’s heavy handed approach and to advocate for the Sahrawi people’s right to self determination. Her efforts helped change the Moroccan government’s violent tactics for dispersing pro-independence demonstrations. Unfortunately, the torture and harassment of Sahrawi human rights defenders continue behind closed doors.
“The RFK Human Rights Award not only recognizes a courageous human rights defender but marks the beginning of the RFK Center’s long-term partnership with Ms. Haidar and our commitment to work closely with her to realize the right to self-determination for the Sahrawi people,” said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights.
For 40 years, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial has worked for a more peaceful and just world. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was established in 1984 to honor courageous and innovative human rights defenders throughout the world. There have been 38 RFK Human Rights Laureates from 22 countries to date. The award includes a cash prize of $30,000 and on-going legal, advocacy and technical support through a partnership with the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights. Award winners are selected by an independent panel of human rights experts, which this year included: John Shattuck; Gay McDougall, U.N. Independent Expert on Minority Issues; Ambassador Bill vanden Heuvel, RFK Memorial Board Member and Of Counsel with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan; Makau Mutua, Dean of Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York; Sushma Raman, President of Southern California Grantmakers.
For more info on Western Sahara click here:
Source: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (