This morning I received an e-mail from a friend asking me to get the word out about a tragic human rights event that has been taking place over the past week, which the world knows little to nothing about. It concerns the Saharawi people living in Western Sahara. Western Sahara is a disputed territory in Northwest Africa sandwiched between Morocco to the north, Algeria to the east, Mauritania to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The situation is ongoing, and at the time of this writing, all journalists have been expelled from the region, but early reports can be found (such as this piece from The Washington Post).
Here's a summary of the report I received from an individual who works with Saharawi refugees:
This is an urgent plea on behalf of the Saharawi people. At this moment in time, the situation has become explosive. We are American citizens [working] in the Saharawi refugee camps, watching a nightmare unfold before our very eyes.
In the Homeland of Western Sahara, thousands of Saharawi were amassing in a peaceful demonstration "camp" outside their former capital city of Layoune, Western Sahara. Morocco, the occupying government since 1975, expelled all journalists and news media last week, cutting the homeland off from any outside witnesses.
On Monday, November 8, Moroccan forces surrounded the peaceful, unarmed protest "camp" and began a crackdown; in the early morning hours they began burning tents, beating women and children, spraying the Saharawi with tear gas and hot water, and then turned to the use of live ammunition.
On Tuesday, November 9, negotiations, which were scheduled to be held between Morocco and the Saharawi, were encouraged to continue by the Saharawi president, even though his people were under Morocco's attack. The Saharawi negotiations representatives returned to the table, but finding a continued, entrenched stand by Morocco, negotiations ended.
Meanwhile, in the refugee camps of the Saharawi, Sahara Desert of Algeria, our American team is living amongst a people in the refugee camps who are receiving phone calls from their family members in the homeland, hearing the terror in their voices as they describe the brutality they are experiencing at the hands of Moroccan troops, pleading for help. Men and women are being beaten, youth are being physically taken from their homes, bodies are decaying in the street because the Saharawi can not get out to bury them. There are a growing number of toddlers found wandering around, unable to express what has happened to them, and their parents' whereabouts are unknown.
Events are escalating in the Saharawi refugee camps. Each day there have been more and more reports coming into families in the camps via cell phone communication from the occupied homeland families. Some of that information is as follows.
Frantic messages from terrorized family members in Layoune continue to pour into the camps via cell phone contact with their families, often from women pleading for help from the refugee population. Screams and crying have been replayed on the radio station throughout the camps. The effect on the refugees is wrenching.
Eye-witnesses in the area outside Layoune report seeing Moroccan helicopters dropping bodies into the sea, clothed in the traditional blue robes of the Saharawi.
Moroccan civilians clothed as Saharawi have been armed by Morocco with pistols and knives, and encouraged to attack and kill Saharawi civilians, who remain unarmed. This has heightened the terror of the already-panicked Saharawi, now unable to easily identify who might be a dangerous person.
The number of dead continues to mount, including very young children and the elderly.
The number of disappeared individuals is over 2,000. Most of the dead who can be identified are those on the list of disappeared.
The Saharawi president announced to the U.N. that if there is no significant action taken by the U.N. or the world community by this coming Tuesday, he cannot be responsible for what may happen as his people approach the brink of taking matters into their own hands against Morocco.
As believers in the God who sees and the God of justice and mercy, we are asking you to urgently take action to bring this story to the awareness of the United States.
Aaron D. Taylor is the author of Alone with A Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War. To learn more about Aaron's ministry, go to www.aarondtaylor.com. To follow Aaron on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/aarondtaylor. Aaron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like the contact information of the aid worker that wrote this report, please contact Aaron Taylor at email@example.com