TIME Spain

Surreal Scene of Migrants Atop Spanish Border Fence

A golfer hits a tee shot as African migrants sit atop a border fence during an attempt to cross into Spanish territories between Morocco and Spain's north African enclave of Melilla
A golfer swings as African migrants sit atop a fence during an attempt to cross from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Oct. 22, 2014. José Palazón—Reuters

The fence is often the scene of would-be border-jumpers aiming to reach Europe

Among the top issues this year for European countries along the Mediterranean has been how to handle the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who seek a better life within their borders. Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants journeyed across perilous routes throughout the year, and in thousands of cases met death before land. Others have attempted to cross into one of the two Spanish enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta, that border Morocco.

The latter scene played out again on Oct. 22, and was captured in a picture at the border fence surrounding Melilla that later went viral online. Eleven men are seen sitting atop the fence as a police officer approaches — and as two women play golf below. One is in mid-swing while the other is turned toward the group.

José Palazón, an activist with a migrant-rights group, spotted the men above the golf course and thought it was “a good moment to take a photo that was a bit more symbolic,” he told El Pais. “The photo reflects the situation really well — the differences that exist here and all the ugliness that is happening here.”

Spain’s interior ministry said about 200 people tried to scale the fence that day, according to the Associated Press. About 20 successfully crossed, while another 70 stayed on top of the fence for hours.

TIME Western Sahara

There’s a New Terrorist Threat Emerging in Western Sahara, and the World Isn’t Paying Attention

A man flashes a v-sign as soldiers from
A man flashes a V sign as soldiers from the proindependence Polisario Front parade during a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the proclamation of independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in the Western Saharan village of Tifariti on Feb. 27, 2011 Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

For 39 years, exiled Sahrawis have watched their homeland being stripped of its resources with the West's complicity. Now, they could feed into the latest wave of Islamic extremism in North Africa

When the Sahrawi refugees of North Africa drink tea, they make each successive cup sweeter than the last. The first cup, they explain, is bitter like life, the second sweet like love. The third one is sweeter still, they say — like death.

If that’s a rather mournful thing to say about the simple pleasure of drinking a warm beverage, it’s because these refugees are a mournful people. They are former soldiers, or the children of former soldiers, from one of the world’s forgotten conflicts: the Western Sahara war. For decades, about 100,000 of them have languished in camps for the displaced, waiting to fight anew in a struggle that never picks up, and killing nothing more besides time.

North Africa has become ever more volatile since the Arab Spring, run through by militant Islamist outfits and Latin American drug cartels. The Algerian group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has established footholds in Mali, Niger and Mauritania, and recently staged its deadliest attack in Tunisia. Ansar al-Sharia has filled the power vacuum in several parts of Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall, and Morocco has, in recent weeks, raised its security alert because of the fear that terrorist fighters will return from Syria and Iraq. Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are extending their reach from the west and the east. And on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced an annual $110 million investment to counteract the increasing terrorist threat across the African continent.

Stuck in the middle of this vortex are the Sahrawis. The next lot of extremists could easily arise among them.

A territory about the size of the U.K. stretched out along the Atlantic, between Morocco and Mauritania, Western Sahara is often called “Africa’s last colony,” since it never gained independence when Spain decamped in 1975 — 91 years after seizing it in 1884. Instead, Morocco invaded and fought a 16-year-long war against a Sahrawi army of independence, known as the Polisario Front. When the war ended, the Sahrawis were left with the arid easternmost part of the territory, and half of the population fled to six refugee camps on the Algerian side of the border. Morocco took territory along the seaboard. To defend it, the Moroccans built a fortified barricade half the length of China’s Great Wall, and laid before it an estimated 9 million mines.

The U.N. called for a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawis in 1991, but since Morocco had moved in hundreds of thousands of its nationals into its part of Western Sahara, the sides couldn’t agree on the electoral rolls. The Sahrawis have since rejected an offer of autonomy within the Moroccan nation and remain keen for the U.N.-backed poll.

Morocco has meanwhile consolidated power over the territory it occupies, while the Sahrawis nurture the embryo of their would-be state — the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) — among the refugee camps in Algeria. SADR is currently recognized by 46 nations — its most vocal supporter being Algeria, which has a long-standing enmity against Morocco — and is a full member of the African Union. But because of strong Western support for Morocco — it is seen as the most stable state in the area and a bulwark against terrorism — the dream of an independent homeland seems ever more like a mirage.

That has bred a good deal of resentment. In 2012, three Spanish aid workers were abducted in the camps, and over the following year several dozen Sahrawis were reported to have taken part in the militant Islamist advances in Mali. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the risk that: “fighting in Mali could spill over into the neighboring countries and contribute to radicalizing the Western Saharan refugee camps.”

J. Peter Pham, director of the Washington, D.C.–based think tank Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, believes that is already happened. “The disconcerting fact is that because these camps are closed, there needs to be at least tacit approval on the part of those responsible to permit infiltration and exfiltration,” he tells TIME. “Whether that’s because of policy or corruption, I don’t know.”

In October 2012, Polisario reportedly set up a counterterrorism squad to protect the camps, but Pham views this initiative with skepticism. “In a way, it’s like breeding vermin and then setting up pest control,” he says. “The ongoing maintenance of a phantom state that will never exist creates the climate for extremism.”

According to Pham, Polisario should accept the offer of autonomy, because an independent state would not be viable. “The last thing Africa needs is another failed state, and that’s exactly what Western Sahara would become if Morocco left,” he says. “There are no real natural resources which can be commercially exploited, it would never be viable by itself. An independent Western Sahara would be an even bigger breeding ground for terrorists.”

That, of course, is not how the Sahrawis or their supporters see it. There is a possibility of offshore oil, and phosphates, fish and arable land are already being exploited in the occupied territory in violation of international law — and with Western connivance. In 2011, a major fishing agreement between Morocco and the European Union was scrapped, partly because fishing in Western Saharan waters was thought controversial, but in December 2013 it was surprisingly renewed. The new agreement talks about benefits to the “local population,” but makes no specific mention of the Sahrawis.

“The E.U.’s interpretation of the legal opinion is preposterous,” Hans Corell, former legal counsel of the U.N. and the author of its legal opinion on Western Sahara’s resources, tells TIME. “It is utterly embarrassing that the international community has been unable to solve this conflict. Since Morocco is able to capitalize in Western Sahara, there will be no incentive at all to change the situation.”

Neither are the E.U. or the U.N. providing any mechanism for humanitarian monitoring in the territory. The U.N. has had a peacekeeping force in Western Sahara since 1991, but it’s the only such operation in the world lacking a mandate to monitor human rights, because of an annual French veto in the Security Council. Isabella Lovin is one of several members of the European Parliament who have tried both officially and unofficially to enter Western Sahara to take soundings among the Sahrawis, but she’s been both denied and deported.

“If neither the U.N. nor the E.U. are allowed to monitor in Western Sahara, how can human rights ever be guaranteed?” Lovin asks.

Protests are commonplace in the occupied territory, but they are invariably broken up by police, since any questioning of Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara is punishable with prison terms. Activists are commonly prosecuted on trumped-up charges such as assaulting a policeman or planning riots. The binding evidence is often a written testimony, supposedly made by the defendant during extended pretrial detention without access to legal counsel. Because of the lack of monitoring, it is often impossible to tell whether these statements are true, false or coerced.

“These trials are the most blatant violations of human rights and end up in people being locked up for years,” Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, tells TIME. “Police beating demonstrators, however, is a weekly ritual.”

Some rights activists worry that the protests, beatings and trials will escalate now, as oil companies off the Western Saharan coast intensify their exploration. In 2005, Norway’s Government Pension Fund, the world’s largest sovereign-wealth fund, started divesting in Kerr-McGee, because their operations in Western Sahara constituted an “unacceptable risk for contributing to other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.” However, Kerr-McGee’s American partners Kosmos Energy, continued the enterprise.

Currently, Kosmos Energy has a drilling ship on its way to the region. Mohamed Alouat is one of many Sahrawis who have protested against Kosmos’ plans. A video from June 10 purportedly shows him taking to the streets with a poster that says the oil is Sahrawi, before a policeman assaults him with a razor blade.

“They beat my mother so she fainted,” Alouat says. “This all happened to me now because I held a poster against Kosmos. Where are our rights?”

Even though it is still some way from actual oil production, Kosmos Energy has gone out of its way to publicly promise that “local populations” will benefit from any discovery. “We believe that economic development of the territory can and should proceed in parallel with the U.N. mediation process,” a Kosmos spokesperson tells TIME. “In fact, some experts believe a discovery may be the catalyst to lead a resolution of the conflict.” The energy company adds that it is in the process of engaging with a range of local stakeholders, “including Sahrawis.”

Erik Hagen, chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch, disagrees.

“If oil is struck, the Sahrawi future is forever ruined,” he says. “Morocco is the only country in the region that doesn’t produce oil, it is completely unthinkable that they would seek a solution with the Sahrawi if they make a discovery.”

That, of course, would only stoke frustration in the refugee camps. “Militant groups are operating in the camps and their influence is growing,” says the Atlantic Council’s Pham. That could make Africa’s last colony its newest terrorist hotbed.

TIME

Pictures of the Week: May 23 – May 30

From the Santa Barbara drive-by shootings and Ukrainian presidential elections, to martial law in Thailand and Kim and Kanye’s wedding extravaganza, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

 

TIME movies

New Star Wars Will Reportedly Film in Morocco, While Tunisia’s Tatooine Set Languishes

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker on the Tatooine set of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker on the Tatooine set of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

Disney reportedly has its sites set on locations in Abu Dhabi or possibly Morocco for the seventh installment in the sci-fi franchise. Meanwhile, the original 1970s Tatooine sets that were used in the first film are still standing in the Tunisian desert

Star Wars: Episode VII is set to include scenes on Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine, The Hollywood Reporter reports — but Disney is unlikely to return to the Earth-bound set where scenes on that planet were first shot for 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope. Much of the original Star Wars’ Tatooine footage was filmed in the North African country of Tunisia, while Disney now reportedly has its sites set on locations in Abu Dhabi or possibly Morocco.

Disney, which acquired the Star Wars franchise as part of a $4.05 billion deal with Lucasarts, is staying mum on where Episode VII will be filmed; a Disney spokesperson did not return TIME’s request for comment for this story. However, Disney’s apparent choice to skip Tunisia is especially interesting when you consider that several of the original 1970s Tatooine sets are still standing in the Tunisian desert.

That’s right — you can visit Tatooine just by hopping on a plane to Tunis, as many a fellow Star Wars fan has done. But Tatooine is vulnerable, and this time it’s not the Imperial Navy that’s threatening the double-sunned desert planet. Researchers who track the movement of sand dunes in the Tunisian desert (sounds like a fun gig) have been warning for years that the Star Wars site is in danger of being overtaken by the desert.

Star Wars fans afraid the sets will be lost forever have crafted a publicity campaign called “Save Mos Espa,” so named for a spaceport city in the Star Wars universe. The Tunisian government itself recently got involved, with its tourism ministry setting up an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $45,000 that will go to protecting the site for another decade or so before more preservation efforts will be required.

The crowdfunding campaign has raised $3,600 with 57 days to go. But Disney could be the real hero of this story — $45,000 is chump change for the company, just .001% of the $4 billion it paid for Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise. Why not shoot in Tunisia, where the old set might be perfectly aged for the new film, set some 30 years after the events of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi? Security could certainly be a concern — but if that’s the case, Disney could still write a quick check, becoming the Guardians of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

TIME

Morocco’s Movie ‘Mecca’ Seeks a Comeback

The region of Ouarzazate once attracted big-budget historic epics with large casts. Now, authorities hope a combination of low-budget productions and renewed Hollywood projects will save the scenic location

At the foot of the scenic High Atlas Mountains, lies the region of Ouarzazate in southern Morocco, once dubbed the “Mecca” of the film industry for its studio facilities and the stark beauty of its locations.

Many feature scenes of Hollywood blockbusters were shot there, from 1962’s Laurence of Arabia to Gladiator in 1999.

But as the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East, and the global economic crisis put many projects on hold, the renowned region lost its appeal to international film-makers.

“For the past three or four years there’s no longer been a rush by producers to get their films shot,” Larbi Agrou, who filmed Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra there in 2000, told the AFP.

“Most people who work in films here also have other trades to keep them going — farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters. But without tourism and the cinema, Ouarzazate would be dead,” he said.

Agrou said that the first encouraging signs of a revival appeared last year, when movie stars like Nicole Kidman visited the site, along with more film productions from Morocco’s own movie industry. Just recently, a French director of Moroccan origin, Nabil Ayouch, chose Southern Morocco for scenes of his latest film, God’s Horses, which won a prize at Cannes in 2012.

Watch the video above for a sneak peek of Ouarzazate’s stunning movie locations.

 

 

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