Western Sahara Refugees Host International Film Festival in the Desert
Western Sahara’s eighth Sahara International Film Festival (known as FiSahara), the world’s most remote film festival, took place in early May this year deep in the Algerian desert.
The festival is located in a refugee camp 130 miles from the nearest town in the Algeria desert and aims to offer entertainment and educational opportunities to the refugees as well as raise awareness of a forgotten humanitarian crisis. The refugees are Saharawi’s from Western Sahara – occupied unlawfully by Morocco in 1976 – and an estimated 165,000 of them have lived in four camps for over three decades.
Visitors to the festival live with refugee families sharing their tented or mud-brick homes. The hottest hours of the day are spent sitting on the carpeted floor drinking endless cups of sweet tea with Saharawi hosts. There are no paved roads, no sources of food or water and during the heat of the day a thermometer on a wall can register 120 degrees. One day, during in a sandstorm, it became very clear why the area is known locally as the “Devil’s Garden.”
Among this year’s visitors was former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Francesco Bastagli who resigned from the UN in 2006 in protest over UN inaction on Western Sahara. Mr Bastagli expressed frustration at the UN Security Council’s failure last April to extend the mandate of the Peace Keeping force in occupied Western Sahara, to include human rights monitoring.