“Tell them not to forget about me” A story from occupied Western Sahara 

Anas El Omari, an orphan boy living in occupied Western Sahara
He likes to play with colors and he always has had a dream to be a painter despite his younger age. He is only 11 but already a special bound has tied him up to the colors displayed in the Saharawi flag. Saharawi kids usually get amazed to see him every once and while using only the colors of the Saharawi flag even when drawing a different picture. One day a boy asked “why you are using only the colors of the Saharawi flag?” “It contains many colors and that tells something about me” The boy responded, adding “look, black is said to symbolize occupation, green is land, white is peace and red in the star and crescent represent spiritual salvation. This is what I was told from my adoptive mother and I have already endured so many hardships to understand all of it” 

The boy, a Moroccan orphan whose parents died, had lived for quite some time in a homeless status and at the kids house before a Saharawi family decided to adopt him. The Saharawi family saved him from the wraths of street life and took him where he belongs, school and family warmth.

But with his new family he learned also other things; he no longer sees the Moroccan flag lift up at kids’ house building or hung up at every street corner during his homeless times, rambling around the city streets and allies, begging every passerby. Now, living with his new family, he sees only the Saharawi flag hung up inside the house or during times when the family watches RASDTV; the Saharawi Republic TV streaming from the refugee camps.

“why is this flag different from the Moroccan one?” “Why up at the kids’ house or in the streets, it is only the Moroocan flag that we can see?” He once asked his adoptive mother who gazed at him for quite sometimes but skipped answering him. For her, the answer was much more bigger to grasp for his small brain. 

But the boy’s past life made him a little grown up than the rest of his peers. He knew that his mother had skipped answering him and he went on looking for the answer from other sources. 

At first, because he was Moroccan, the Saharawi kids avoided him but as time goes by, they discovered he was a much more lively and playful boy with a good football talent. Every Saharawi boy wanted him to be part of his team to easily win over the football matches they played at the neighborhood or else where. Astonishing enough, it took him only few months before he became a fluent speaker of the Saharawi dialect and in dint of his friendly character, the Saharawi kids even gave him a nickname, “Jlaibina”, the small cute and lively creature.

Apparently, the Moroccan boy managed to be part not only of his new Saharawi family but also the Saharawi kids’ community. 

Nevertheless, the Saharwi kids have had other unusual habits for him that would later be one of his dearest passions; drawing the Saharawi flag and sharing the dream of the other Saharawi kids; a free Western Sahara.

Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco in 1975 after the end of the Spanish colonial rule. The Saharawis were betrayed by Spain that had promised them a referendum of self determination before it sold them to the Moroccan monarchical regime. A war broke out pushing half of the population to live as refugees in neighboring Algeria and the other portion under the Moroccan brutal occupation. Despite the UN brokering attempt to hold a referendum, the peace plan, from 1991, is still locked in a stalemate and it is the Saharawi people who suffer the most; a portion endures the hardships of refuge and the other portion still lives under the brutality of the Moroccan occupation. Resolving the Western Sahara decolonization issue is one of the biggest failures of the United Nations.

But the Moroccan boy now feels he belongs rather to the Saharawi community. They offered him a caring family, a better education and nice friends. He felt he wanted to give them something back, and the best gift he thought of was to draw the Saharawi flag. In heroic attempts, the flags he drew were often lifted up by militants over the colonial administrations, the street electricity cables or during the protest parades of the Saharawis to denounce the ongoing Moroccan occupation. Sometimes, He himself carries one of the flags he makes and takes to the streets, chanting anti-occupation slogans and calling to free Western Sahara. 

The fame of this orphan Moroccan boy reached higher levels that the flags he made were on every occupied city and village. 

But the fame sometimes can be dangerous, and that was the case for he orphan boy. His fame went beyond the Saharawi circles to reach the police secret service’s circles putting his safety at stake. Last January 2017, as violent confrontations erupted between the Saharawi youngsters and the occupation forces, a group of plainclothes police abducted him while he was passing by the only school he has known so far. He was violently treated; shoved down to the ground, dragged and slapped hard on his small face and hit on many parts of his little body before they threw him inside the police van that had swerved from the other street with a deafening sound of wheel braking. 

The news of the orphans kidnapping went viral like fire and it took his Saharawi mother only few minutes before she knew about his incarceration. Hastily, she went to the police station to enquire about her boy. 

“Yes, we have that naughty boy” the official frowned at the quick presence of the mother at the police station

“I am his mother and you must release my boy now unconditionally. He is just a boy and you can’t send him to prison” she said, angry pointing at the police officer.

The Moroccan police who are used to treat the Saharawis with degrading despise ordered the grieved mother to leave the police station. To dismiss her, he had to give whatever promise to safeguard her boy’s safety. 

As every Saharawi, the Moroccan police are the last to believe in as years of long and tough occupation has taught them that sometimes only incessant fight for their rights is what can lead the occupational administration to back down and bow in front of a fervently determined people. 

The following morning, the mother was not alone in front of the police station, but in company of a group of protesters demanding the boy’s immediate release.

The boy had undergone a long and tiring police investigation and the decision from higher circles already was in the process of execution; he was accused of making Saharawi flags and as a result he would be deported to a reformatory institution somewhere in Morocco. 

It was a heartbreaking news to the mother who, within a heartless occupation, was left to her tears and sadness. 

Helpless, the mother had only one wish, to see him before deportation. In an unusual move, her wish was approved and the last meeting had to take place just before the boy was to be put inside the police car deporting him to a remote reformatory.

At his sight, the mother went straight to him, knelt down, giving him a long and warm hug and tears came down her cheeks. 

As the boy was mounting inside the police car, he looked at his mother and said “I am a Saharawi, please mom, tell them not to forget about me”

Khalil Asmar  

NB: this story is based on true events

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One Response to “Tell them not to forget about me” A story from occupied Western Sahara 

  1. A great story! So important that a story like this is being told and spread. Thank you!

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