Sahara woman has always played a fundamental role in her own society, that indeed is a matriarchal one. During the war against Morocco (1975-1991) women have been forced to run away and refugee in the most hostile part of Sahara desert: the Hammada.

Without any kind of help from men, who were engaged in the battles many kilometers from there, Saharawi women have been able to organize the community life in the refugees camps, where a part of the Saharawi population is still living (about 250.000 persons). They took charge both of the logistic, through the construction of tends, houses, schools, hospitals and the political, social and cultural dimension.

In fact nowdays,lot of them are in charge of important institutional assignments and all of them take part at the women meetings that are often very influent in many governative decisions.

They wish their population could return in the territory they were forced to leave and where their relatives are still living under occupation; they are also divided from a 2400 km wall surrounded by mines built by Morocco in order to deny them the possibilty to return to their own country.

I spent two months in a refugee camp as a guest, where I focused my photographic research on the Saharawi women realizing a series of environmental portraits and about 50 interviews.

Text and photos © Raffaele PetrallaClick for more information and photos.


Portraying the Saharawis, The last thing you lose is hope.

The homeland of the Saharawi people is the Western Sahara, the north-western region of Africa on Moroccos northern borders. Yet for more than 35 years the Saharawis have been living on Algerian land.

The Western Sahara was a Spanish colony. In 1973 some Sahwarawi formed the Polisario Front to oust the Spanish. The Saharawis gained political strength and a UN mission showed support for their independence. However, the withdrawal of Spain led to an invasion by neighbouring countries Morocco and Mauritania, and Saharawis began to emigrate from their own land to Algeria.

In 1976 the Polisario Front declared a Republic and started a guerrilla war between Mauritania and Morocco. Having won the war against Mauritania, the Moroccan forces still kept control of the major cities, and by the mid-1980s, a sand wall had been built dividing up the land.

The existence of a peace process has led to a cease-fire between the Polisario Front and Morocco but the country remains divided. Morocco controls the coastal west side, an area rich in resources. The liberated portion of the country is inland, economically useless and heavily land-mined.

This body of work portrays a people who have not given up hope. Their aim is to get back to their land. Their perpetual refugee status denies them the land, freedom or society to continue developing their culture, even to feed themselves properly. The effects landmines can have on human beings is just one of the more visible devastations resulting from this conflict. Yet in the face of such mutilation and with everyday hardship a fact of life they remain committed. But where does this situation lead? And what does it mean for future generations of Saharawis?

Bernat Millet
Petition to investigate police brutality and institutional violence against Moroccan-occupied territories in the Western Sahara

from the petition [TW: mention of rape]:

Due to ongoing instance of physical and sexual abuse of young Sahrawi women by the police and officials of the DST (Moroccan secret services) in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, we call on international Human RIghts organizations to open an investigation.

the petition is at 7,000 and the goal is 1,000,000!