Between 26th February and 28th February 2019, René Jacobi, CONIFA’s Tournament Director, travelled to Algeria to visit camps there housing thousands of Western Sahara refugees. CONIFA members, the Western Sahara FA is looking to improve its set up and ensure those living in refugee camps can play a decent standard of football, something that can be almost impossible due to the lack of basic equipment and even a pitch. Players have to play on sandy, stony ground, often with no lines, nets in the goals, or enough kit to go around.
The Sahrawi refugee camps have been described as ‘one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world’ and result from fighting between the Sahrawi people and Moroccan forces during the Western Saharan War in 1975-1976. Over 40 years on, many of the original refugees still live in a group of camps within the Algerian province of Tindouf.
There are five main camps in the region – Awserd, Smara, Laayoune, Bojador and Dakhla – and René visited two of the camps on his two-day visit. During his time in Smara, René was able to speak to various members of the Western Sahara FA based there and find out more about the kind of issues the FA face. He was also able to understand more about the basic need for coaching and training information, and also see first hand the difficulties young players struggle with.
Despite the issues, the people René met were keen to talk about football and how it can be a lifeline for so many young people in the camps; everyone involved in the Western Sahara FA are determined that football can be something to bring the issues within the camps to wider attention. René also met with members of the camp government and was able to celebrate Republic Day within the camp.
There is no doubt that the people in the Western Saharan camps are determined to bring football to those living in such inhospitable conditions, almost solely reliant on humanitarian aid. Hopefully CONIFA can assist in this, and ensure Western Sahara can compete in future CONIFA tournaments.