Education in the Saharawi camps: an educational system in the shelter and in the desert

José Antonio Vinagrero Ávila


When in 1975 Spain leaves to its fate the inhabitants of the former Spanish province of Western Sahara, most of the Saharawi population has to flee their homes chased by the armies of Morocco and Mauritania in the operation known as “Ecouvillon” while the civilian population marched to Saharaui territory in "The Green March" .

In this flight to the desert find refuge in an inhospitable territory of the Algerian Hamada where, located in four camps, declare the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), organizing basic services that allow the survival of the population as well as the possibility of return and government of the territory of Western Sahara in the future. 

Within the hardness of the situation emerges something exceptional and it is the main axis of this article. The Saharawi people are able to create in the desert refugee camps an educational system that reduces illiteracy in the population as a whole and in childhood in particular. They have been able to organize an educational system in which practically 100% of children are in school, reducing the illiteracy of 90% of the population, in colonial times, to data similar to those of developed countries. In the education of the camps you can study children's education, primary, secondary and also vocational training. 

In this article we will go deeper into the main characteristics and difficulties of a structured educational system practically without economic resources, but what represents a great commitment to education as a form of struggle, social and political progress. 

We will also analyze the role of the Spanish Government as a donor of humanitarian aid to these people, as well as its political responsibility in a conflict that has been open for more than 40 years, with Western Sahara being the only territory in the world pending decolonization.


education; refugees; illiteracy; educational policy; School organization; teacher education


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