EU funds deceiving youth trip to occupied territory

A project supported by the EU Commission's Erasmus+ programme is to send European youth to “North Africa” - but without informing them that they are lured into normalising the illegal occupation of Western Sahara.

15 December 2023

UPDATE, 21.12.2023: The exchange programme will not take place in Western Sahara after all. 

Five European associations have over the course of the last days invited youth to apply to take part in a new youth exchange programme at a location that is called “Dakhla, North Africa” or “Dakhla, Morocco” or “North West Africa”.

The responsible organisation seems to be the Spanish association Proactive Future, based in Asturias. 

“By filling this form you declare that you have fully read and understood the content and the conditions of the info pack of the project in”, the application form reads on the website of the Spanish organisation.

However, not a single piece of information can be found on the website about the nature of the event's location. The site contains an “infopack”, explaining that the event will be in “Dakhla”, but without giving any further context as to what that entails. 

The Spanish NGO’s vague formulation of “North Africa'' suggests that the association might be well aware of the controversies involved in hosting the event at exactly that location. The programme partners in Greece, Bulgaria and Italy actually state that the event is to take place in Morocco, which is factually incorrect. 

To make it even more confusing, the Spanish NGO has not used pictures from Dakhla in the occupied territory in its marketing. There are two Dakhlas in the world. The NGO failed to find pictures of the right one. In the picture to the right, they have applied footage of sand dunes that are in Dakhla oasis - in western Egypt. The architecture depicted on top is from a building in the village of Al Qasr, only a 27 minutes car-drive away from the Dakhla oasis - also the one in Egypt. Another desert-like image in their information folder is from Algeria. 

The partner associations Cilento Youth Union (Italy), Dare To Scale Academy (Bulgaria) and Dream Team (Greece) use images from Dakhla in the occupied territory on their social media, while erroneously locating the town, in capital letters, in Morocco. Interaktiva (Croatia) only refers to Dakhla as being in “North West Africa”.

Dakhla is in the part of the territory of Western Sahara that remains under foreign, illegal occupation by Morocco. 

A letter signed by eight Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) was today sent to European Commissioner for Education, Iliana Ivanova.

“The EU Court of Justice has unequivocally recalled in successive rulings that Morocco and Western Sahara are “separate and distinct territories” and has made clear in these rulings that all EU dealings with the occupied territory of Western Sahara are to strictly comply with international law, in particular by securing the prior consent of the people of Western Sahara”, the parliamentarians wrote. 

Proactive Future's Instagram invites people to “Dakhla, norte de África”. The picture is not from Dakhla, where no such rock formations exist. The picture is from Tamanrasset in Algeria. The infopack shows pictures from Dakhla uncontroversially located in Egypt. 

The MEPs requested, among other things, to immediately suspend the exchange programme.

“Moreover, there is an obligation under international law, applicable to all EU Member States and institutions, to refrain from recognising a situation resulting from an unlawful acquisition of territory”, the parliamentarians stated. 

Details about the EU funded exchange programme are found on the website [or download] of Erasmus+. It states that the programme itself is to end in May 2024, and that the applicant association received 48,177 Euros of EU tax payers’ money for sending youth to the occupied territory.

According to the project file, the programme is to take place “in Dakhla (Morocco).” As such, there is a clear error in the activity report published on the Erasmus+ website. 

The EU parliamentarians stressed their “profound consternation in relation to the project" and that "Dakhla is not situated within the internationally recognised borders of Morocco but in Western Sahara, which is a non-self-governing territory under the unlawful occupation and annexation of Morocco."

“42 young people from 7 participating countries (Greece, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Portugal and Spain) will take part in this experience”, the description reads on the website of Erasmus+. The same website article notes elsewhere that the programme is to benefit youth from Morocco. Morocco is also visible on the country list of Proactive Future’s website.

All five project partners who have announced the programme so far, either misleads or lies about the real location of the exchange programme. 

It means in either case that people from Western Sahara – which is a different territory from Morocco, and where the activity is to take place – are most likely not eligible to take part in the programme. 

People from the occupying state, however, are. Half the people of Western Sahara live as refugees in refugee camps abroad following the Moroccan invasion.  

The report on the Erasmus+ website notes that the event was to take place from 4 to 12 November 2023. WSRW has no indications that the project took place on those dates, and expects it to have been postponed to the new and recently announced dates from 27 January to 6 February 2024. It would also appear that the programme was originally intended to take place at a different location. The programme description that is available on the Erasmus+ website gives the impression that it is drafted for another site, in Spain, mentioning that “on the fifth day we will visit the capital of the region, Oviedo, bringing the local culture closer to the young students…”, a two-day excursion to “a mountain refuge” (there isn't one in Dakhla), etc. There has also been a change in the participating organisations: initially a Portuguese organisation was part of the programme, but has been replaced by a Moroccan partner association, FCC Morocco. 

WSRW has written to the 7 involved NGOs. See the letters below. None of the letters have been responded to so far. Both Dare to Scale Academy (Bulgaria) and InterAktiva (Croatia) published erroneous and misleading announcements after having been contacted by WSRW about the matter.

WSRW recommends youth not to apply for the programme, and the project partners to immediately withdraw their participation and their false representation of the occupied territory, that is not in line with the position of the United Nations, the European Union, the EU Court of Justice, the International Court of Justice and the positions of their respective governments.   

1. Proactive Future. Letter from WSRW 29.11.2023.
2. InterAktiva (Croatia), Facebook. Letter from WSRW 29.11.2023. Mentions the location only as “North West Africa” on Facebook 05.12.2023. 
3. Cilento Youth Union (Italy). Erroneously mentions the location as “Morocco” on its Facebook page [or download] and Instagram of 30.11.2023 and on its website. Letter from WSRW 29.11.2023.
4. Dream Team (Greece). Erroneously the location as “Morocco” on its website [or download] and on its Facebook [or download] page. Letter from WSRW 29.11.2023.
5. Geo Club (Romania), Instagram. Letter from WSRW 29.11.2023.
6. Dare To Scale Academy (Bulgaria). Letter from WSRW 29.11.2023. Erroneously mentions the location as in “Dakhla, Morocco” on Facebook 04.12.2023
7. FCC Morocco (Forum Connecting Cultures in Morocco), Instagram. Letter from WSRW 29.11.2023. 


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