I came up with the idea of filming a documentary on Western Sahara when I found out about the so-called "wall of shame". The first time I heard of it I almost did not believe my ears. As a student I was looking for a subject for my thesis and came across something unbelievable. I would have never imagined that someone could build a 2,700 km long mined wall right across the Sahara desert, a land inhabited by nomadic peoples, and have the nerve to call it "berm". The first thought that crossed my mind was that, in all the years I had spent in high school and university, nobody had ever mentioned it to me.
In 1989, when the famous Berlin Wall fell, the unknown berm had already been standing for about two years, having been completed in the twelfth year of war in the former spanish colony, which is occupied by Morocco since 1975. After 16 years of armed conflict the United Nations stepped in and created an ad hoc agency, the United Nations Missions for the Referendum in Western Sahara, or MINURSO. It was 1991 and nothing has changed yet: resolutions stating the Sahrawi people's right to self-determination have never been implemented. The berm is still there, nothing but a glaring violation of human rights. There is no mention of it in geographic maps or newspapers, not even in the many UN resolutions on Western Sahara. I decided to go there myself, to see it with my own eyes.
photo by Linda Dorigo
In 2011 I left with a photojournalist friend of mine to spend 5 weeks in the Sahrawi refugee camps near Tindouf, in the outer south-west of Algeria. This is where the Sahrawi's escape from their war-devastated land stopped, though none of them imagined they would stay there so long. What was the best way for me to report such a complex story? We were hosted by many families, but when I met Salka, born in those camps but raised near Rome, her italian mother Carmen and her sahrawi mother Aisha, I had finally found what I had been looking for: a bridge between Italy and Western Sahara.
photo by Linda Dorigo
Native speakers of both Arabic and Spanish, Sahrawi have managed to build in the exile of the refugee camps a State which has been recognised by over 80 countries. On the other side of the wall lies the ocean, but the Sahrawi can take advantage neither of it, nor of the other natural resources; it is up to others to exploit them aplenty. The European Union is one of the many stakeholders of a business involving companies from different countries and continents.
Over the last few years I have invested a lot in this project, which aims at analysing the Western Sahara question through the words of witnesses and stakeholders. Collecting testimonies in the camps was easy, I only had to approach the refugees and ask. In order to shoot I went through all the paperwork required by Italy, Algeria and the SADR, but then I had no difficulties in interviewing the SADR Minister for Cooperation, who has always been speaking out loud against the dirty business in the occupied territory. I knew that to enter it I had to get a new passport; the one I had "accidentally lost" bore a stamp from Tindouf, as well as a transit permit for Algeria required by the SADR. From the southern part of Western Sahara I went to the Canary Islands, in order to store footage in a safe place and avoid problems at my next stop. However, I could not travel any further, as I had to follow the advice of my contact and give up on a trip to Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara. It was not a suitable time, as controls usually become tougher just before the annual renewal of the MINURSO mandate, and I had no official authorisation to film. Moreover, Moroccan authorities know too well that activists and journalists usually start their trip from Las Palmas, where I was at the time.
I waited in vain for the Moroccan Consulate in the Canary Islands to give me the right permit, but eventually I run out of leave days and had to postpone my plan. Back in Italy I tried to obtain testimonies from the Directorate-General for Marine Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) of the European Union, which is responsible for an agreement representing a breach of several international laws and a violation of human rights. Here are their answers:
Dear Mr Maurici,
In reference to your request, I am afraid that xxxx is not available for an interview on the below mentioned subject. Wishing you all success with your documentary,
Many thanks for reaching out to us. xxxx has seen all your requests and very much regrets to inform you that she will not be able to participate in your interesting project. We would like to wish you all success with it – would you be so kind to let us know when it is out and whether we would be able to watch it in Belgium?
This is the story of my project so far, making progress but I have to deal with limited time and financial resources. While in the beginning I took care of the production and filming, little by little the project has taken the form of a co-production with external collaborators. However, my job as coordinator of a help centre for asylum seekers in Italy takes most of my time. I have filmed in the Tindouf camps, in the occupied city of Dakhla and in the province of Rome in Italy. I am looking for funds in order to complete shooting in the occupied capital, Laayoune, to interview EU representatives, to produce a graphic animation of the berm's construction, and eventually for post-production and editing. This campaign aims at involving collaborators, paying them for their contribution and eventually completing this documentary.
My goal is to have the film finished in 2018, when, probably once again far from the spotlight, funds will be renegotiated for the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement and the MINURSO mission. On 27th February 2018 the SADR, the exiled State of the Sahrawi refugees, will turn 42 years old.
photo by Linda Dorigo
Two mothers, one asking the other to take her daughter away...that same child eventually grown into a woman. There has been no progress for the Sahrawi: year after year, they still wait for something to change.
"[...] This people [...] chose the path of diplomacy, and I think it can continue this way, it will definitely continue. Those who advocate diplomacy, however, have been living in a land of war for 16 years. This generation is staying, the generations of those who were born here. Once they finish their studies they don't know what to do, they can't stand this frustration anymore[...] none of us wants... would want to... see their children grow up here."
photo by Linda Dorigo