Homeland Lost - The Saharawi

Over 25 years after the ceasefire between the Polisario Front and Morocco, the Western Sahara still awaits the referendum that will determine its fate – independence, or unification with Morocco.

In the second instalment of Homeland Lost, Alan Gignoux looks at how the Saharawi of Western Sahara have been affected by occupation and displacement.

The Saharawi are a Sunni Muslim, Hassaniya Arabic speaking tribal people of Arab-Berber heritage. They have historically lived a nomadic existence in the westernmost Sahara.

In 1975, Morocco invaded the mineral-rich Western Sahara – in a move not recognised as legal by the international community. The invasion was militarily disputed by the Polisario Front – a Saharawi nationalist movement claiming independence for the territory.

As a result of the invasion of the Western Sahara, many Saharawi people are now living under occupation in their homeland. Others live as exiles in Spain, and as refugees in camps in Algeria.

In 1991, after fifteen years of military conflict, Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to a ceasefire. The plan called for a referendum on the future of the region. But disagreements about eligibility to vote mean that the referendum has yet to occur.

The some 200,000 Saharawis still living in the Western Sahara are now vastly outnumbered by Moroccan settlers and military forces. Since the occupation, they have been subjected to human rights abuses, including lack of freedom of expression, association, and movement. There have also been numerous detentions, disappearances, and killings.

The so-called “Liberated Zone” along the Algerian border is now littered with mines, and is host to regular casualties.

In Homeland Lost: The Saharawi, Alan Gignoux photographs the Saharawi people living under occupation, as well as those who have fled to refugee camps and the European continent.

The photo exhibition has been shown in numerous galleries, including:

  • Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, London (2007)
  • Association of Photographers, London (2007)
  • Host Gallery, London (2007)

Head over to the Galleries page to see images from Homeland Lost: The Saharawi.