Wall of Shame For centuries the Saharawis have called the desert home, but they don’t belong here. At least not on this side of the Wall.
Marcello Di Cintio
he Wall is built of sand and stone, but also of rumours, half-truths and blus-
ter. It is the world’s longest and oldest functioning security barrier, and it runs through disputed desert land between Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. Near Tindouf, on the Algerian side, lie several large refugee camps whose residents are Saharawis—the name means “people of the Sahara”—and they don’t belong here. At least not on this side of the Wall. They are from a patch of sand called the Western Sahara on most world maps, its borders drawn with tentative dotted lines. The Spanish called it the Spanish Sahara. The Moroccans call it their southern provinces. For centuries, Saharawi camel herders called it home. Now it is the “occupied zone.” The oldest among the refugees arrived in the camps during the 1980s, when the war with Morocco over the land was at its peak. These old men and women sit cross-legged and talk about the French-built fighter jets that doused the fleeing refugees with napalm. Most of the people in the camp, however, were born here. Few have ever seen the land on the other side of the Wall. The only home they’ve known is these tents and mud-brick shacks. There may be a hundred thousand refugees in the camps, but no one knows for sure. With a United Nations ceasefire holding and guns lowered, counting has become an act of war: each side exaggerates or understates their numbers. Even the Wall itself cannot be measured. No one knows exactly how long it is—some say it stretches for more than 2,700 kilometres—and no one knows how many Moroccan soldiers stand atop it, or how many land mines hide in the sand along its route. photo on previous page: saharawi refugee camp, algeria, marcello di cintio
Fall 2009 • G E IST 74 • Page 53