© Photos and Text: Vicente L. Tofiño

At the beginning of last December I traveled to Algeria to make a photographic report for the "Sahara-Physio" Development Cooperation Project of the Complutense University of Madrid, whose objective was to train 10 new Saharawi physiotherapists, 5 of whom women. The project, led by Dr. Pedro Pardo, is carried out in the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf. In those days, the Spanish government communicated that it was not convenient to travel there due to the threats that Isis had made public, in fact many people canceled their trips and others, who were in the camps, returned to Spain or their country of origin. 

Due to the problems of entering Algeria, I had to pose as health personnel, since as a photographer I was not granted a visa. In fact, when I arrived in Algiers, I had problems passing the camera at the airport controls - something that worried me more than the threats - but the Virgin, they always say, appears and some young Sahrawis who traveled to the camps helped me pass it carrying my suitcases and cameras. I carried theirs full with women's clothing. They were also a great help in the camps and thanks to them I was able to take some photos for this report. From here my most sincere gratitude.

From Algiers we flew at dawn to Tindouf (province where the refugee camps are located) and escorted by the Algerian military and later by the Sahrawis we arrived at Rabouni, administrative capital of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, where there are several ministries and NGOs refugees-supporting NGOs. Also in Rabouni is the Protocol, where were our accommodations.

Protocol is a spacious place with several pavilions for people who work supporting refugees. Due to the threats of Isis it was practically empty, in my pavilion there were six bedrooms with three beds each and I was the only one who slept there.

Every day at 8 in the morning a car would pick us up to take us to the Rabouni National Hospital where the training course for the new Sahrawi physiotherapists was hold. We could move around provided that we had a permit, accompanied by the driver and in some cases with an escort. We had a curfew at 6:00 in the afternoon, not being able to leave until the next day. In front of Protocol there is a desert area called the Hamada (place where the animals will die) and at some point, with the vigilance of the Protocol military, we were able to walk through that area where you only find skeletons and dead camel skins.

Some 165,000 refugees live in the camps - some young people that have not even known their country of origin - and all their basic rights have been violated despite the humanitarian aid they receive.

The different camps or wilayas have the same names as the most important cities in Western Sahara from where they were expelled more than 40 years ago and to where they want to return. They are Rabouni, Smara, el Aiun, Auserd, Bojador and Dajla. All are between 20 and 60 km, except Dakhla, which is about 200 km away. We were able to visit all of them (with the exception of Dakhla) so that Pedro Pardo could attend to people with medical problems.

When I have a new opportunity I want to return, out of gratitude to the people with whom we were in contact, for their kindness and friendship, and by extension also my thanks to all the Saharawi people.