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The summer university of Tifariti, Western Sahara (in 2009)
© Jørn Sund-Henriksen/afrol News
Western Sahara
Science - Education

First university for Western Sahara refugees being built

afrol News, 16 February - The Sahrawi exile government, located in refugee camps in Algeria, has announced the construction of the first university of Western Sahara. The education unit will be built in the small liberated zone of the country.

The President of the Sahrawi Republic, Mohamed Abdelaziz, has signed a decree ordering the establishment of the University of Tifariti. Tifariti is an oasis town in the narrow eastern stripe of Western Sahara controlled by the Frente Polisario, the Sahrawi liberation movement headed by President Abdelaziz. The rest of the country still is occupied by Morocco.

The town of Tifariti was evacuated in 1976 in face of Moroccan bomb shelling. The heavy attacks on Tifariti endured until the ceasefire in 1991. Since 1999, Polisario has started reconstructing the ghost town, which now is the only permanent settlement in "the liberated territories" in Western Sahara under Polisario control.

By now, Tifariti has a hospital, a school and a museum, but the town also accommodates a sizable Polisario military base. It is estimated that the town has some 3,000 inhabitants. But for security reasons, the Polisario government still headquarters in the refugee camps on the other side of the border, close to Tindouf in Algeria.

According to the presidential decree, the construction of the Tifariti university now is to start. Sahrawi authorities so far have offered free basic education to children among the estimated 155,000 refugees in the western Algerian camps. For higher education, Sahrawis have had to travel abroad, especially to the former colonial power Spain.

For the many Sahrawi students living abroad but travelling home to the camps during summer leave, authorities have offered extra education at the "Summer University of Tifariti" during the last years. Here, basic courses of the country's history, language and culture are taught. The new Western Sahara university is to be built upon the summer university structure.

President Abdelaziz already has found time to appoint a headmaster, who is to assist in the establishment of the University of Tifariti.

The new headmaster, Khatari Hamudi Abdullah, confirms that there has been established "a working committee" within the Sahrawi Ministry of Education given the responsibility of establishing the new university. Mr Abdullah also urges Western Sahara's cooperation partners to assist, especially hoping universities in friendly countries would show solidarity. Tifariti will in particular need help regarding infrastructure, development of a teaching programme and technical equipment.

According to the headmaster, the teaching programme at the University of Tifariti at a first stage will concentrate on "the pressing needs of the Sahrawi people," which Mr Abdullah has located within the fields of history knowledge, Sahrawi literature, education, health and public administration.

Despite the difficult circumstances at the refugee camps, the education level there is relatively high and illiteracy rates are very low, even in a North African context. After education, however, the Sahrawi population faces its worst challenges as there is virtually no employment in the camps.

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