The 27 February Camp: Sahrawi Refugees in Algeria
In 1975, at the apex of the conflict over what is now known as the territory of the Western Sahara, the Sahrawi "liberation movement", the Polisario Front, established a number of refugee camps in South-Western Algeria, near the Algerian military town of Tindouf. On the 27 February 1976, the Polisario Front declared the birth of its "state-in-exile", the camp-based "Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic" (SADR). Since then, the Polisario/SADR has developed its own constitution, camp-based police force (and prisons), army and parallel state and religious legal systems (the latter of which implements a Maliki interpretation of Islam). A number of "national" Sahrawi institutions, such as the National Parliament and National Council, National Hospital and Pharmaceutical Laboratory, the National War Hospital and the Landmine Victims’ Centre, are all located close to the camps’ administrative capital (Rabouni), which, in turn, is some 25km from Tindouf and its military airport. Approximately 155,000 Sahrawi refugees are currently distributed amongst four major camps named after the main cities in the Western Sahara (Aaiun, Ausserd, Smara and Dakhla), and a fifth, smaller camp which has developed around the National Women’s School (called the 27 February Camp). The 27 February Camp was the location of the majority of my fieldwork in the camps between 2001 and 2009, and it is this refugee camp which is the focus of this report.