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AWSA celebrates the 36 anniversary of the foundation of Polisario and the beginning of the struggle for freedom in Western Sahara




The Australia Western Sahara Association (AWSA) organised an event at Leichhardt Town Hall in Sydney to commemorate the foundation of Polisario and the beginning of the struggle for independence in Western Sahara, on Friday evening 15th of May 2009,.

Under the title: “Africa’s Last Colony: Western Sahara in Film”, the event included the screening of a series of documentary films, an exhibition of photographs and paintings as well as books, music CDs, T-shirts and various handicraft items produced in the Saharawi refugee camps.

The main film screened was “Cubarawi Women” about the Saharawis who spent their formative years in Cuba studying in a very different environment from the refugee camps where they were brought up. Several women share their experiences of culture shock and adaptation when they return to work in the camps.

This documentary was supported by three short films including a charming short film called, “Lalia”, and “Children of the Clouds”, a documentary by the U.S. director and cinematographer Carlos González, that reveals the oppressive conditions inside the Moroccan occupied Western Sahara.

The event was attended by a large crowd of Australians from all backgrounds.

The Mayor of Leichhardt Mr. Jamie Parker spoke at the event and welcomed the gathering. He said that Leichhardt was proud and honoured to host the event. He said that the Leichhardt Council was delighted to raise the Saharawi republic flag this year to commemorate and as an expression of solidarity and support to the Saharawi people.

Mr. Jamie Parker introduced a news programme that was produced by 7.30 report programme of the ABC TV which dealt with the exploitation of phosphate by Australian companies. He said that although Western Sahara is far away it is still relevant to Australians because of the involvement of Australian companies in the illegal exploitation of Western Sahara resources.

The representative of Polisario in Australia, Kamal Fadel, introduced the “Children of the clouds” documentary film and highlighted the human rights aspect of the conflict in Western Sahara.

Kamal said that the Saharawis continue to suffer under Moroccan occupation, and underlined that the Saharawis are subject to abhorrent practices and inhuman treatment at the hands of the Moroccan army and police.

Kamal Fadel, also representative in New Zeland and Ambassador in East Timor, said that the documentary film confirms that the Moroccan regime has failed in winning the hearts and minds of the Saharawis and particularly the generation of children that was born under Moroccan occupation.

Mr Fadel thanked the Mayor of Leichhardt and the Councillors for offering the Town Hall venue for the event. He also thanked AWSA for organising an excellent event on a historical occasion for the Saharawi people.

On her side, the former President of the Legislative Council at the NSW Parliament, Ms. Meredith Burgmann, introduced the Cubarawi women documentary film and said that she was very impressed by the level of education and literacy amongst the Saharawi people and was also impressed by the important role that women play in the Saharawi society.

She was also delighted about the links between the Saharawi and Cuban people and the support that Cuba provides in terms of education for the Saharawis in many fields particularly as doctors.

Annette O’Neil a member of AWSA introduced Lalia and said:

“Lalia, an imaginative little girl, has never seen her country - Western Sahara. She can only dream, listening to her grandmother’s wistful stories. Her family has been living for over 30 years in refugee camps of up to 160,000 people in the harsh Algerian desert.

No wonder she is curious about her country - a land rich in minerals and abundant fisheries - on the Atlantic coast south of Morocco and west of Algeria.

Lalia is of the third generation of Saharawis to endure this banishment while striving to exercise their right to self-determination and to escape Morocco’s oppressive denial of their sovereignty.

As you can see in the film, typical of her people, Lalia values the education provided by dedicated teachers, even when it lacks comfort and elaborate equipment. She is thoughtful and imaginative, dreaming poignantly of the Atlantic Ocean as she sits in barely furnished classrooms in the desert, dependent on inadequate UN food aid and water trucked from distant wells.

Australians generally have had little idea of this country or its need for our support until Kamal Fadel’s arrival in Sydney in 1999, Since then AWSA has been working to encourage our government to support the rights of the Saharawi, just as it did the East Timorese during their equivalent struggle.

Some members of AWSA have had the privilege of staying in the refugee camps, visiting the very same classrooms. We were driven through the desert into the part of Western Sahara that is not occupied by Morocco. We saw the “Wall” or Berm – 2.5 thousand kms of sand barriers guarded by Moroccan soldiers, - and the evidence of harsh warfare and land mines to keep the refugees in exile.

Despite their conditions the Saharawis have shown themselves able to strive to turn dreams into reality: for example an admirable literacy rate of over 90% and the genuine participation of women in civic life. The prospect of having such a secular, modern democratic state in North Africa should be a dream for the world so that Lalia’s dream of returning to her land might come true.

We want to support this dream. Perhaps YOU would too?”, Annette concluded.