The Sahrawi refugee camps are in Southwestern Algeria near the town of Tindouf, in the heart of the Sahara Desert. Around half of the indigenous population of Western Sahara fled to this region when Morocco and Mauritania invaded their land in 1975 as the Spanish colonial authorities withdrew; the other half remains in Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation. (For more please see section on Background on Conflict).
Sahrawis who built and settled in the refugee camps, and the subsequent generations born there, face tough living conditions in exile — a harsh climate in an arid land, few opportunities, food, medical and basic infrastructural scarcity, geographic isolation and a total dependency on dwindling international humanitarian aid. But most devastating is international invisibility, and the Sahrawi people use an abundance of creative cultural resistance to fight back.
In 2003 Sahrawi refugees joined hands with Spanish cultural activists and decided to create an international film festival in the camps to call attention to their plight and invited international filmmakers, artists, journalists, activists and the public to join them in trying to shatter the silence around the forgotten conflict in Western Sahara.
Thousands have so far responded to this call, and FiSahara today is one of the world’s most unique solidarity film festivals and a member of the Human Rights Film Network. Film screenings open a window into the world and Sahrawis engage and share their stories with international visitors, who themselves witness first-hand the situation in the camps. Media coverage of the festival sheds light on the frozen conflict. Many new projects are born of these cross-cultural encounters: FiSahara’s film workshops led to the creation of the Abidin Kaid Saleh Audiovisual School, which has trained the first generation of Sahrawi filmmakers who today co-organize the film festival.
The first edition of FiSahara was held in Smara, one of the largest camps, and then it has rotated to other camps: Laayoune, Ausserd and Dakhla, changing from edition to edition.