Article published in Dagsavisen, 27 August 2012 Unofficial translation to English by Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara
This year’s Mela Festival in Oslo has been characterised by protest songs, and, like last year, the festival contributed to make known voices that often are not heard. The French-Spanish singer Manu Chao has become engaged in injustice all over the world and, during the past few years, especially in the situation in Western Sahara, a territory occupied by Morocco. Because of the occupation many Sahrawis live in refugee camps in Algeria, and as a result of the financial crisis they now receive considerably less aid from countries such as Spain, which has been essential for their survival.
“It is a great injustice. Morocco took this country, and so many lies have been told. And the conflict is totally forgotten,” Manu Chao declared.
He is right that not much is being written about this problem in the media. Before this summer it was precisely this conflict that was chosen as the most important of the neglected refugee situations by the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“That is why I want to welcome all those who can talk about it,” Chao said. And that is what he did on Saturday by giving some minutes of his own time to Sahrawi refugee Senia Abderahman, who, in front of all those gathered on City Hall Square, spread the message that Norway had to become aware of the situation. Wants Norway to Contribute “The most important thing for me was to make people interested in the situation, so that they can read more about it and form an opinion. The Mela Festival is all about making more voices heard, and the way the situation is now, people from my country are not heard,” Abderahman stated.
Manu Chao himself visited one of the refugee camps in 2008.
“It is difficult to summarise what I experienced there; despite the terrible conditions, I was actually also impressed. I was impressed by the high educational level of the youths and children in the camp. I was accompanied by a good friend who is a teacher in Algeria, and he was also very surprised,” Chao said. He believes that this is proof that the people there have not abandoned hope about their situation.
“They know why they are there, and they know what must be done to improve their situation,” he said.
It was the organisation The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara that contacted Manu Chao a while before he was to visit Norway, precisely to ascertain whether they might collaborate with him. With Chao as a spokesperson the organisation wanted to call attention to the situation, which now is more critical than ever, and thus make the authorities in Norway increase the aid so that hose who live in the refugee camps will not have to starve.
Not Happy "This requires information, and therefore I’ll open my mike. This is my tool, and others may use their tools,” Chao said. He nevertheless does not want to be called a political singer.
“I’m Manu. Journalists like to categorise, but I do not want to categorise who I am. I am Manu, and I live in a world that is not a good place. I therefore try to present things,” he said.
“My goal in life is to be happy, and I can not be happy when I know that the world is a big mess and people are not happy.”
Chao believes that getting focus on the forgotten conflicts in the world is something to which many can contribute.
“Football players, for example. I would be delighted to see a really famous football player speak about the situation in Western Sahara,” he exclaimed.
Talk a Lot Politicians, on the other hand, talk enough.
“They talk too much and do too little. Every time we have a change of government in Spain they say that something must be done about the problems in Western Sahara, but then it’s risky because they have a good relationship with Morocco, which they don’t want to jeopardise,” Chao said.
He hopes that it will help that he speaks about the situation publicly.
“I hope so. I hope Norway can contribute. You haven’t felt the financial crisis much yet. And what is happening there now is critical,” he stated.
Western Sahara • When the Spanish colonial powers withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, both Mauretania and Morocco claimed the area. Morocco took military control of the country. • The liberation movement Polisario simultaneously declared Western Sahara independent and started an armed battle against what they consider Moroccan occupation. • After 16 years of war the UN negotiated a truce between Morocco and Polisario in 1991, in addition to an agreement about a plebiscite about the country’s future. The plebiscite, which was to be held in 1992, has still not been carried out. • More than a hundred UN resolutions have demanded that the people of Western Sahara must have the right of self-determination, and the International Court of Justice in The Hague has rejected Morocco’s claim on Western Sahara. About 80 countries have recognised the Western Sahara republic, whose official name is Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). • The majority of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara’s population, the Sahrawis, live as refugees in four large camps in Algeria and Mauretania. Source: The Norwegian Refugee Council.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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