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Dr Sidi Omar (left) and President Ghali of Western Sahara. Niall O'Connor/The Journal.
western sahara

The leader of the world's largest contested region is in Dublin to ask President Higgins for help

President Brahim Ghali and a delegation from Western Sahara are in Dublin hoping to meet Government officials and President Michael D Higgins.

SITTING IN THE lobby of a Dublin hotel is the president of a country Ireland does not recognise. 

President Brahim Ghali and a delegation from Western Sahara, the world’s largest occupied territory, are in Dublin hoping to meet Government officials and President Michael D Higgins.

They are members of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) who are also members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (POLISARIO).

Western Sahara is an enormous territory sitting on the west coast of Africa with Morocco to the North and Mauritania and Algeria to the east and south. It is more than three times the size of Ireland.

Irish troops have been deployed there as part of United Nations operations in the area in the past. 

It is a picturesque place of endless sand dunes, blue seas and desert that has suffered decades of conflict between the Sahrawi population and Morocco. Successive Moroccan Governments have violently contested its interest in the state. 

Most of the landmass of Western Sahara was taken over by Moroccan forces and settlers in 1975 following the withdrawal of Spanish colonial powers.

The SADR Government controls around one fifth of the land, which is separated from the Moroccan-controlled side by an enormous 2,700km long wall along with the world’s longest minefield.

The majority of Ghali’s subjects live in refugee camps inside Algeria. While the international community has led efforts to find a solution each have failed and since 2020, violence has flared between the two sides.

When The Journal met the delegation they had emerged from meetings in Dáil Eireann. 

Dr Sidi Omar is the POLISARIO Representative at the United Nations and Coordinator with the UN mission in the country MINURSO. 

He said that Ireland and Western Sahara has strong relationships particularly as former colonial occupied territories. 

morocco-and-western-sahara-political-map Morocco and Western Sahara. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo


He said he and his colleagues are in Dublin to compel Ireland to help them find a greater involvement in their country from the United Nations. 

They are also “hopeful” that Ireland will “boost” its relationship with Western Sahara by recognising the country. 

Omar claimed that there have been extensive human rights abuses including the forced deportation of people, hundreds of people imprisoned without trial and thousands disappeared. The deporting of citizens was, for the most part, focused on moving young people out of the country to be schooled in Morocco. 

He also claimed that Moroccan forces as well as settlers have engaged in campaigns of rape and degrading treatment of women. 

In the north, the State is bordered by a massive border wall with more than seven million landmines. 

Omar equated that wall to the treatment of the Palestinian people who are kept isolated by a giant wall around Gaza and the West Bank.

“Western Sahara is the largest open prison in the world today, not just like Palestine but because of the size of the territory. 

“Besides the fact that Morocco does not allow journalists or politicians to visit the Western Sahara because they do not want to let the world to know about the horrors and the atrocities they are committing against our people,” he said.

Omar works at the United Nations and liaises with the organisation’s mission in the country. United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso) is preparing for a referendum in which the people in the country will choose to vote for independence or integration with Morocco.

Despite that relationship he has strong words for the success or not of that mission – the key issue is that there is no reporting by the UN of human rights breaches.

“Ireland was on the Security Council and were working hard on getting language on the Security Council on resolutions to assist us. 

“There are countries on the Security Council who have not helped because they want to protect Morocco. 

“The fact that Minusro does not have a human rights monitoring capacity is disgraceful – human rights forms a core element of UN peacekeeping missions,” he said. 

trekkers-rest-on-a-sand-dune-in-the-western-sahara People rest on a sand dune in Western Sahara. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo


The SADR Government wants Ireland to vote for a widening of Minurso’s mandate to allow soldiers to report back and monitor Moroccan forces’ activities in the country.

Irish soldiers have a long history of conducting such operations in the Middle East and other locations, such as in Kosovo and in the African Sahel.

When asked if he would support Irish troops being deployed in a similar manner Omar added: “Ireland is known internationally as a country who advocates for the rules based order and it has that reputation of being a neutral. 

“Ireland has a reputation of that strong stance and we would welcome any initiative from Ireland to monitor what is happening in Western Sahara and brought to the international community,” he added. 

President Ghali was slow to speak ahead of his meeting with President Higgins but did share two observations. He said that the Irish and Sahrawi peoples have a similar history of “struggle for freedom and self-determination”.

And said that he appeals to Ireland to be the “champion of defending the rights of the people of Western Sahara at the UN and the EU”. 

His wish for recognition by Ireland of the sovereignty of Western Sahara and his title of President will not be decided after his visit to the Áras.