In class on Wednesday, September 27, we got a special guest named Asria Mohamed Taleb to talk about her experiences growing up as a refugee in the refugee camps in Algeria. Her story is extraordinary, and I am very happy that we got the opportunity to get an insight of how her everyday life used to be like.
One of the first things Asria mentioned was that she, as a matter of fact, has never visited her own country, Western Sahara which is the last remaining colony of Africa in the UN. It is a country that has not been mentioned a lot in media, as a result of that the Sahrawi people do not use violence as an act of getting their ways – which is boring for the media, Asria said. The people of Western Sahara is not allowed to express their opinion, which caused a traumatizing experience for this one girl Sultana. She is known as the Gandhi of Western Sahara, and a lot of the Sahrawi people look up to her. Sultana wanted to express her opinion in a peaceful way and tried to organize a human right movement in 2015 and start a protest, and it resulted in that she was beaten up in the streets by the Moroccan police.
As Asria told us – Moroccan government occupied Western Sahara in 1975. They came into their territory with something called “a green march”, which was attacking, bombing and killing individuals who had done nothing wrong. It became a colony of war until 1991, where they signed a seize fire and a promise of a referendum on independence which is yet to take place. The Polisarion Front was founded in 1973, and to this day they work with During the 16-year war period, a lot of people fleed to the neighboring country for safety reasons, to the south-west. Refugee camps were waiting for them, and according to the UN, it was only going to be a temporary solution – which has not yet been figured out, even several years later.
It was in the refugee camps in the south-west Asria grew up. She did not know the conditions in her homeland, as she has never visited Western Sahara. Asria told us about quite a bit about how her life was growing up. Her whole life her family, and all the other 160 000 Sahrawi people had to rely upon the mercy of others, and under the UN World Food Program. As the years went past they got less and less aid, which caused severe health problems.
She actually told us that Norway has donated 5 million krones (kr) to them, which I did not know about. Another fact she told us that astonished me was that in the refugee camps, both girls and boys have the rights and opportunity to get enrolled in school and get an education. I became utterly glad when I heart that, and she also said that almost every person in the camp has learned how to read and write. The refugee camp has only primary school, and the students have to leave to the North of Nigera to study, which Asria did. She left her family when she was 13, and joined a group of students for a three-day journey to get enrolled in school for a year.
At the present time in the refugee camps, a lot of adult refugees are waiting patiently and waiting for the UN to come up with a solution for them. Asria told us that there are adults with high education in the camps, who are unable to use it and pursue their dreams due to the circumstances. This was something Asria did not want to experience, so she got hold of an Algerian passport, joined an exchange program and moved to Norway in 2011 where she studied journalism in Oslo. She later published a book about her journey and the Western Sahara conflict called “A Norwegian Hope Journey: Between the Strong Sand and White Snow Lives my Hope for a Free Sahara”, and currently work for the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara. Asria has before not only worked at The Nordic Red Cross, she has as well worked with Doctors Without Boarder in Bergen.
The sources I have used:
Picture of Asria Mohamed, taken of me on 27 of September 2017.
The picture of Algeria refugee camp, taken from Euobserver.com. Downloaded 28.09.2017.
The Norwegian Support Committee For Western Sahara, taken from vest-sahara.no. 28.09.2017
Western Sahara Profile, taken from BBC.com. 28.09.2017