INTRODUCTION: As fighting continues in the Western Sahara thousands of refugees are occupying barren camp in the desert regions of the country.
INTRODUCTION: As fighting continues in the Western Sahara thousands of refugees are occupying barren camp in the desert regions of the country. They trickle into the camps from all parts of the former Spanish colony, where war is being waged by nationalist guerrillas against the new Moroccan and Mauritanian rulers.
SYNOPSIS: Spain divided the phospate-rich desert territory between Morocco and Mauritania in February 1976. But guerrillas of the Polisario Front, a Saharan nationalist group which had fought the Spanish, continue their struggle for the complete independence of the area, formerly known as Spanish Sahara. Since the Moroccan-Mauritanian take-over, between 50 and 70 per cent of the territory's people have fled their homes for refugee camps, like the one here at Camp Hassi, Boujemaa.
In less than a year, the conflict has produced thousands of refugees. The Polisario Front say there are now 105,000 refugees in Algeria and liberated zones of Western Sahara. At the Soujemaa camp there is one mud brick hospital which holds only 40 children. It is staffed by a single doctor and several nurses and nurses aides. The children frequently suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, diarrhoea, bronchitis and anaemea.
The children range in age from almost new born to four and five years old. Serious cases are evacuated to Tindouf hospital in a larger camp nearby. Last summer 500 Saharan refugee children died in a measles epidemic. Survival in the desert is a constant struggle and the refugees have lost their herds and pastures. Meat is a rarity. They mainly eat pasta, and bread with a few vegetables.
With such a restricted diet it is difficult to endure the bitter winter nights in makeshift tents. The young children suffer most from these hard conditions. According to one of the visiting French doctors, most of the children under the age of four are in great danger. Few could be certain of surviving if the winter was too cold or the summer too hot. A Tindouf last summer 15 to 20 children were dying every day in the camp's central hospital.