Fisahara 2009 – Palmarés

The project Cinema for the Sahrawi people began with the culmination of understanding and responding to give a partial solution to the needs detected among the population of Sahrawi refugees of the camps of Tindouf, referring to leisure, cultural activities, and audiovisual training. The objective is to carry out activities for cultural diffusion framed by the cinematic realm.

Apart from the cultural and entertainment component, this project’s objective is to focus international public opinion to recognize the situation in which the Sahrawi people live in exile and their survival with dignity in the desert, waiting for the referendum of self determination to be enacted.

Cinema for the Sahrawi people is divided into three activities:

  • FISAHARA (Sahara International Film Festival)
  • Creation of a network of video shops, one in each of the camps
  • Workshops and audiovisual training courses

Situation of the Camps

The development of the project will take place in the refugee camps of Tindouf, specifically in the wilaya of Dakhla, situated in the western region of Algeria near the occupied territories. The camps, which have been named after the cities of Western Sahara, form an outline of the administrative structure. The refugees are spread among four distinct camps or wilayas (provinces), each has a population of between 45,000 and 50,000 inhabitants. These provinces are composed of various villages and municipalities (dairas) that consist of four districts, in the center of which is located the administrative center, the dispensary, and the rest of the communal and administrative facilities. The refugee camps don’t carry electricity, nor potable water. However, there are some wells from which you can extract brackish water and the majority of the population has small electrical generators run by solar panels.

Around 65% of the population is women. They are principally the ones who care for the family. The organizations created and self-managed by the exiled Sahrawi people have attained an extraordinary achievement of almost entirely eradicating illiteracy. In each camp, they have municipal centers and primary schools, such as small cooperatives and educational organizations. There are two important secondary schools, one especially for the education of women.

Algeria and Cuba host Sahrawi youth for their secondary and university education. The camps have a small radio station and a cable channel that transmits the majority of their educational material. In this context, the Sahrawis, mostly the more recent generations, have a limited access to the entertainment and cultural forms that can not only enrich their lives, but could give them the necessary tools to be able to use the broadcast media and cinema to create reflections of their own reality.

Each summer, thousands of refugee children fly to the Spanish state and are hosted by families in all of the Communities during school vacation. Besides sharing this period with Spanish children, the Sahrawi children receive specific medical care and continue perfecting their learning of Spanish. Many Spanish families who take in children occasionally visit the camps and maintain friendly ties with them and their families over the years. Almost a hundred percent of the children has the opportunity to visit Spain at least once during their childhood. This cultural exchange is sponsored and organized by the Friendship and Solidarity with Sahrawi people Associations of the Spanish state and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).


In 1976, Spain withdrew from the territories of its former colony of Western Sahara, which up to then had been considered an additional Spanish province, allowing the military invasion, known as the « Green March, » of the Sahrawi territory by the Moroccan kingdom. For years the Sahrawi people had reclaimed their independence, supported by the international community through the various resolutions of the United Nations (UN) and the International Court of Justice in The Hague. On February 27, 1976, coinciding with the departure of the last Spanish soldier from the territories, the Sahrawi people proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

In this manner, the war began between the Polisario Front, the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, and the kingdom of Morrocco. The war reached a ceasefire in 1991 through the creation of a peace plan for Western Sahara mediated by the UN and the Organization of African Unity. That plan envisioned the reception of the referendum for self-determination in which the Sahrawi people could freely decide their destiny. Since that time, the permanent obstacles imposed by the Moroccan administration have delayed the process, bringing it to the stand-off situation in which the Sahrawis presently find themselves.

Since that prophetic year, the Sahrawi exodus began: thousands of Sahrawi men and women who had left their land before the invasion and subsequent Moroccan repression, crossed the border between Western Sahara and Algeria. Those who succeeded in traversing this desert settled in the Algerian Hamada of the region of Tindouf, « the desert of the desert. » The scarcity of water, electricity, and food add to the climatic conditions they have to endure. The Sahrawi refugees set up their jaimas (tents) and day after day have been organizing their camps with international support.

More than 32 years later, the refugees are still enduring an unjust exile. There are approximately 200,000 people, mostly women, children and youths, living in precarious and extremely hard conditions in the most inhospitable region of the desert, surviving with dignity and hoping for the realization of the anticipated referendum.