Western Sahara is a disputed and partially Moroccan-occupied territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Its surface area amounts to 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 sq mi). It is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands. The population is estimated at just over 500,000, of which nearly 40% live in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.
Occupied by Spain until the late 20th century, Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963 after a Moroccan demand. It is the most populous territory on that list, and by far the largest in area. In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, asking Spain to decolonise the territory. One year later, a new resolution was passed by the General Assembly requesting that a referendum be held by Spain on self-determination.
It is a disputed region with a complex, war-torn history, and like many other disputed regions in the world, it has a highly militarized zone at the center of which runs a 2,700 km-long sand wall called the Moroccan Western Sahara Wall, or the Moroccan Wall, in short.
Unlike other notorious barriers in the world, the Moroccan Wall is rarely in the news and is little discussed outside of Africa. The existence of this wall has been buried in the desert, along with the 40-year-old plight of the Sahrawi people the Moroccan Wall has kept divided.
In 1979 Morocco began building a huge 2,700-km-long sand-berm dividing the territory longitudinally into two regions. The western side is occupied by Morocco, while the eastern side, the so-called “free zone,” is controlled by the Sahrawi rebels of the Polisario organization. It is estimated that between 30,000 to 40,000 inhabitants live in this landlocked swath of desert next to Algeria and Mauritania, mostly in refugee camps or as nomads.
Hostilities between Morocco and the Polisario Front officially ended in 1991 following a cease-fire, but the Wall continues to be manned by thousands of Moroccan troops all round the clock, while radar masts and other electronic surveillance equipment scan the region for possible intruders. All along the length of the wall runs a belt of mines that has been called the longest continuous minefield in the world. There are more than 7 million landmines throughout the Sahrawi Territory in addition to large quantities of explosive remnants of war and cluster munitions. Serious injuries, loss of limbs and deaths from accidental detonation of these landmines is frequent among civilians.
Moroccan military base along the wall
Left Moroccan side, right Polisario rebel side