Moroccan tomato settlers protest their way back to Sahara
Settlers from Morocco cultivate lucrative quantities of tomatoes and melons at the King of Morocco's plantation in Dakhla, occupied Western Sahara. Faced with incessant job-cuts, these workers are currently staging a protest in Casablanca. Nipping further protests in the bud, the authorities have promised them their jobs back.
At a few dozens of kilometres from Dakhla lies the Royal Domain of Tiniguir, the King of Morocco’s plantation in the land he illegally occupies. Here, Moroccan workers are employed to cultivate the grounds, excluding the local Saharawi population. To attract workforce from Morocco proper, small houses were erected on the royal company's estate.
Since August 2010, small groups of labourers have been continuously let-off and evicted from their homes on Tiniguir. A solidarity protest on the plantation resulted in another 40 people being dismissed. Since then, the workers have united themselves in a trade union, which has started a sit-in in front of the General Administration for Agricultural Properties in Casablanca on 3 November 2011. The wali from Dakhla has promised them their jobs back if they immediately end their protest and report for duty at the wilaya, says Moroccan newspaper Lakome.
A photo on Lakome's webpages shows the demonstrators protesting - under a Moroccan flag.
And herein lies the biggest controversy: the workers on the Kings's plantations are Moroccan settlers. The agricultural commitment is a part of Morocco’s strategy to settle the southern parts of Western Sahara. The Moroccan official propaganda categorizes the agricultural activities under the “development of the southern provinces”. However, this “development” is carried out without the participation of the Saharawi people, and doesn’t bear them any return.
Some of the biggest producers active in the disputed area are French companies Azura and Idyl, whose produce is available throughout Europe. Through these two companies alone, up to 10,000 people are employed in the tomato industry in the Dakhla region. Most of the employees are of Moroccan origin. Due to the controversy, grocery chains in Scandinavia have refused to buy the Dakhla tomatoes.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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