from the Sahrawi refugee camps to the struggle for identity

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Teslem Sidi is a Saharawi activist. From Madrid, she fights not only for the cause of her people, in conflict with Morocco for over 40 years, but also for the identity and freedom of Sahrawi women.

She struggles to accommodate her emotions. On the tarmac of Tindouf Airport, her eyes shine like the moon above her. She sees him: My mother always told me that no matter where I am, we will always have the Moon in common she smiles. It’s been ten years since Teslem Sidi has seen her mother. Ten years ago she stepped barefoot into the desert that watched her grow up. ” I keep talking about the Sahara, but after ten years I have to see what’s really going on there. Otherwise, I’ll just be another westerner talking about something that’s not even really hers anymore. “, Explains the young woman of 27 years.

Teslem Sidi, called Tesh, was born in 1994 in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf in southwestern Algeria. It is there, in “Hamada”, the desert within the desert, that the Sahrawi exiles have lived since 1976. They would be nearly 200,000 today. Tesh’s mother and grandmother are among the first women to take the path of emigration when the conflict began between the Polisario Front (Sahrawi separatists), Morocco and Mauritania. ONE war that will last until 1991the date of the ceasefire (broken in November 2020 ed. note) and the promise never kept by the United Nations (UN) to organize a referendum on self-determination.

The struggle for nationality

As a child, Teslem was entrusted to his grandmother in exile in Mauritania: ” I grew up raising goats … a real little nomad joker the one who is now a computer engineer in a large Spanish bank. ” When I was brought back to the Tindouf camps, I was seven years old. Until then, I knew I had a family, but my mother, my brothers … had only a theoretical life for me. I did not know what they looked like “, she recalls. At the age of eight, she participated in the” vacaciones en paz “program, which since the 1980s has made it possible for Sahrawi refugees aged 7 to 12 to be welcomed by families during the summer. in Spain. The aim: to keep children away from the extreme temperatures of the desert, to enable them to live in contact with Western families and at the same time to make the latter aware of the Sahrawi case: ” We were the best ambassadors in the case “says Teslem.” We also had a very important responsibility for our age. I remember during the summer I asked for chocolates, money, nougats to bring back to those who had stayed in the camps “.

The years pass and this responsibility to those who stay in Tindouf increases. Teslem continues his studies in Spain: ” I needed a stable, well-paid job to support my family in the camps. “, she explains. For several years, Teslem – whose father is considered Spanish because he was born in the time of the Spanish Sahara – will remain illegal in Spain because the administration will not recognize either his origin or his birth certificate, issued by the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). ” It was the tragedy of my life. I could not travel, I could not go on school trips, I was horrified when I saw the police “, She says in the Spanish podcast muevete a tu bola. She will finally obtain Spanish citizenship by proving fifteen years of legal residence in the country and will make this legal battle one of her battles.

Promoting the freedom and rights of Sahrawi women

Today, Teslem is known by the Spanish media, especially thanks to its activity on social networks, its explanatory videos and its role as president of the Sahrawi association of the Madrid community. It organizes demonstrations and talks to raise awareness of the Saharawi cause, the situation of refugees and to constantly remind Spain of its responsibility as the administrative power in Western Sahara. But it was not always easy: I started as an activist only two years ago. Before, I would not know anything. I needed to create my own identity as a refugee, as a woman and as a Saharawi “, she explains.

Because Teslem is part of this new generation of women who have a double struggle: to be the voice of those who are not heard in the camps, while promoting the freedom and rights of Sahrawi women. “ My own struggle is that of identity She sings. In addition, she appears on Spanish networks and media without Melhfa (traditional dress of Sahrawi women), at risk of being criticized by her own community. Followed by a few thousand people, she will be the reference for young refugee girls in Tindouf. To show them that they can look beyond the camps and that the struggle for freedom also involves self-affirmation: ” I claim that to be saharawi one does not have to wear Melhfa or veil. Women must be able to lead the political struggle, no matter what they are wearing “, she says.

Teslem dismisses all her doubts with the hand gesture, she hides her sensitivity behind her eloquence, her self-mockery and her smile. She is a decision maker: I will probably never see the result of the cause “she says pragmatically,” But I would also have contributed His goals for the future: the political struggle in western countries. ” It is about to enter politics that we as Sahrawis from the diaspora will be able to make things happen …“, she says firmly.

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