Western Saharan leader calls on Ireland to support quest for independence

Desert region’s Polisario Front reignited armed struggle against Moroccan forces in 2020 after UN ceasefire broke down

The leader of the Western Saharan Independence movement has called on the Irish Government to “be a champion” and to set an example for other European countries by supporting the desert region in its quest for self-determination and independence.

Brahim Ghali, president of the Polisario Front, which leads the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and claims jurisdiction over the vast desert region, said Ireland could “draw more European countries to join the collective effort” to bring “freedom and independence” to the Western Saharan people.

“We have come to Ireland to strengthen and deepen the relationship that exists between our people because we have many things in common in terms of our history and our values,” Mr Ghali said.

“We believe the Irish people understand and feel the plight of our people because of Irish history and our joint attachment to human values. This is why we’re here in Ireland, because people here understand the right to self-determination.”


A former Spanish colony, the sparsely populated area of northwest Africa was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after Spain withdrew as a colonial power. Since then, there has been a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco, which claims Western Sahara as an integral part of its kingdom, and the Western Sahara’s indigenous Sahrawi people, led by the Polisario Front.

The insurgency ended in 1991 with a UN-brokered peace deal and agreement by Morocco that it would hold a referendum on independence. However, the referendum has yet to take place.

The SADR government retains de facto control of about one-fifth of the land, which is separated from the Moroccan-controlled side by a 2,700km-long security wall and the longest minefield in the world. The majority of SADR citizens live in refugee camps in Algeria. There have been various UN-led attempts to reach an agreement with Morocco on the future of the territory but none has been successful.

The EU previously entered into trade deals with Morocco for the purchase of Western Sahara’s natural resources, particularly phosphate and fish stocks. However, these agreements have been ruled unlawful by the European Court of Justice following a case taken by the Western Saharan government.

In November 2020, Moroccan soldiers entered the UN buffer zone that separates the Western Saharan territory controlled by Rabat from the “liberated zone” controlled by the Polisario Front. In response, the front declared an end to the 1991 ceasefire and a return to the armed struggle against Moroccan forces.

Ireland recognises Western Sahara as a “non-self-governing territory” and has previously said it engaged with the Polisario Front as a “legitimate party to a territorial dispute”.

Mr Ghali said he hoped the armed struggle would serve as “a wake-up call for the international community to realise the seriousness of the situation and do everything possible to bring to an end the 49 years of suffering of their people.

“Our question is similar to that of Palestine, our plight is not different from the plight of Palestinians, it is not different from the plight of the people of Timor Leste. We are firmly attached to our rights and we will continue our resistance until we attain our legislative rights to freedom and independence.”

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Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast