The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), declared by the Polisario Front in 1976, is now recognized by many governments and is a full member of the African Union. With its 554,795 people, it is the 169th largest country in the world by population and the 78th largest country in the world by area with 266,000 square kilometers. Despite the recognition most of the population of western Sahara has lived in excited for the last decades. It was originally colonized by Spain in1884 and remained part of the Spanish kingdom for more than a hundred years. An arid region where less than one-fifth of the land is used for agriculture, Western Sahara is home to large phosphate, iron ore reserves, has rich fishing grounds off its coast and is believed to have untouched offshore oil deposits.


In 1975, Morocco acted upon their centuries-old claim to Western Sahara and declares it part of the Moroccan Kingdom. As a result, the Polisario Front—a Sahrawi movement founded in 1973 to campaign for the independence of Western Sahara—launched a guerrilla struggle against the Moroccan-Mauritanian occupation of its indigenous land. The conflict lasted until a U.N.-brokered ceasefire was agreed in 1991 and resulted in the displacement of thousands of Sahrawis into refugee camps across the Algerian border in Tindouf, where they remain to this day: The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates 90,000 people are living in the camps, while the Algerian government puts it at 165,000. During the struggle, Mauritania renounced its claim to the region and Moroccan authorities built a 2,700 km wall through the territory, annexing two-thirds of the country and leaving a dangerous no-man’s land between the two.


The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, demands a referendum on the region’s independence, which the U.N.’s mission in the region is ostensibly aimed at facilitating. But with negligible progress made since the ceasefire in 1991, it appears that one of the world’s most intractable and neglected disputes may continue to rumble on.