A wall around occupied El Aaiun: protection or aggression?

From March 17 to April 13, a Moroccan company beholden to the occupying authorities built a wall over 4 km long situated about 500 meters from the “25 Mars“neighbourhood in the Eastern suburbs of the city of El Aaiun in occupied Western Sahara.

 According to information received by “Equipe Media”, this portion is the first instalment of a wall that will surround the whole city and that will be about 20 to 25 km long.

The wall is 1.70 m high and 2 meters wide and will run from the strip of Essaguia El Hamra River until the checkpoint established on the road between El Aaiun and Essmara. It is built from sand and rocks by a construction company owned and run by a former Moroccan soldier named Omar Sbayou, who has established a worksite with 60 workers, 4 bulldozers “Poclain” and 6 trucks.

While in the Moroccan Army, Bayou was in charge of arresting Saharawi civilians and became a very wealthy businessman in Western Sahara. His workers are all Moroccan settlers.

The land on which the wall passes belongs to the commune. The occupying authorities have decided to build the wall without any consultation with the Saharawi people, the rightful owners of the land.

No signs are displayed in the province to inform the public about the project, nor have the State-sanctioned media offered information.

Several Sahrawi journalists who are sanctioned to work by the occupying authorities and who wish to remain anonymous admitted having information about the project but said that they have received orders from the officials in the province not to publish anything about it.

The wall has consequences on the free movement of Sahrawi citizens and will especially hinder the passage of Saharawi nomad families and their livestock.

The wall is similar to the one built by the Moroccan army around the Gdeim Izik protest camp in 2010 in order to control the 20,000 Sahrawis who camped out there protesting against the poor living conditions they suffered under occupation.

In 1975 and subsequent years, after the Moroccan invasion and military occupation of part of Western Sahara, Morocco built walls around all the occupied cities of Western Sahara to prevent Sahrawi citizens from fleeing to the refugee camps and to protect its settlers and interests inside the occupied cities.

These walls had not been renovated after the construction of neighbourhoods in the suburbs by Moroccan settlers and had gradually been destroyed by the wind.

This wall is being built in the context of an international situation that is of extreme concern to many Sahrawis, after the annulment by the European Court of Justice in December 2015 of the EU-Morocco free trade Agriculture Agreement due to its application on the Western Sahara occupied territories, the severance of diplomatic relations between the EU and Morocco, the UN Secretary General’s visit to the refugees camps and Morocco’s subsequent decision to expel UN officials from the occupied territory.

The isolation of the region raises fears that Morocco will increase violence against Sahrawis far from the spotlight.

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