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Mainstream accounts of refugee women and children have habitually portrayed their objects of study as ‘generic’ passive victims of war and/or famine. In stark contrast, however, since the early 1980s Sahrawi refugee women and children have been invoked as active agents constructing and maintaining their camps. In the first part of this article I explore the nature of a selection of mutually-reinforcing images produced by the Polisario Front (the Sahrawi refugees’ ‘representatives’ and camp managers) for a European audience. Their distinctive content could appear to be diametrically opposed, and perhaps designed to offer a corrective to the ‘universalizing representational practice’ identified by Malkki (1995: 11). In the remainder of the article, however, I argue that these and other portrayals of Sahrawi refugee women and children are in essence motivated by the same political and politicized priorities as those of ‘generic’, passive and victimized ‘womenandchildren’ (Enloe 1990, 1991). Examining three apparently paradoxical accounts of one context of Sahrawi displacement (Sahrawi refugee youth’s ‘educational displacement’ to Cuba), I highlight the extent to which Sahrawi women and children are consistently, if differently, mobilized by Morocco, Polisario and members of Spanish civil society to secure support from a range of state and non-state actors. Moving away from the external projection of these images, I conclude the article by highlighting how the Cuban scholarship programme has been conceptualized and negotiated within the camps, with reference to tensions between Cuban-educated women, their families, and Polisario veterans.

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Journal article


Oxford University Press

Publication Date



22 (3)


323 - 350