My name is Aziza Brahim. I am a Sahrawi singer. I was born in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, and I now live in Spain.
Amidst the challenges I have faced in my life, a few things have made me happy. Being nominated by Orient Global for the Freedom to Create Prize is one of them.
Life for the Sahrawi people has not been easy. Western Sahara is the only African country that remains a colony. The colonial power, Spain, abandoned the territory and ceded the adminstration of it to a third country, Morocco, which invaded.
As a result of this invasion, my people have suffered a genocide composed of exile, war, torture, disappearances and violations of human rights. Morocco has refused to comply with the resolutions of the United Nations regarding a referendum on self-determination which would allow the Sahrawi people decide their own future.
For these reasons, my people have been divided between exile and occupation for three decades.
Now, I wish to speak of my own story, which is representative of that of most Sahrawis. When my mother was pregnant with me, she had to flee from her home to exile in an unknown land, thanks to the military occupation. She arrived in the Algerian Hamada, one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world. There I was born, in the middle of nothing, on the ninth of June, 1976. I spent my childhood in conditions of poverty, thinking that this was my lot in life. Later, when I had the opportunity to study in Cuba, I began to understand. The jaimas (traditional tents) and the land that had surrounded me was not my country. I discovered that I was refugee.
When the moment arrived to decide what to do with my life, I had no doubts. I wanted to sing, because that was what I had always done. I was raised amongst the music and poetry of my family. And that was what I wanted to continue doing, because only by singing could I truely express and realise myself. Through music, I feel, dream and express my life and the life of my people. Thanks to the music, I have been able to experience a liberty that has been denied me in other aspects of my life. As is evident today.
Today, I cannot be with you at the Freedom To Create Prize ceremony in London. I live in Spain, a civilised and democratic country where, in theory, I do not exist. I am Sahrawi, but I am not recognised as such, nor am I recognised as a refugee. In order to remain in Spain legally, I had to enter on an Algerian passport. That passport expired on the 2nd of November 2009. I have done all I can to extend or renew it, to no avail. I applied for permission to travel, based on my residence of the European Union, and explored all possible bureacratic options, including humanitarian reasons (as a representative of my people), but was not permitted to travel. This is a symptom of the legal vaccuum in which I live, which is the result of politics. I am not the only one, and there are Sahrawi compatriots in worse circumstances, such as Aminatou Haidar, the human rights activist who is on hunger strike in Lanzarote airport, having been refused entry to El Aaiun, in the Moroccan-occupied zone of Western Sahara.
If I, who am Sahrawi and a refugee, am not a Sahrawi or a refugee in the eyes of others… then who am I? Today, they have denied me my freedom to travel, but they cannot deny me my freedom to create, and to dream of a better world, in which my people will be free, in their land, and can move throughout the world with their own passport and nationality. A Sahrawi one.
Thank you very much.