If you ask the linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, the Arab Spring did not begin in Tunisia in 2011—it began with the October 2010 protests in the town of Gdeim Izik, in Western Sahara's occupied territories. The former Spanish colony has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. Its territory is divided in two by a 1,677-mile-long sand wall and surrounded by some 7 million land mines.
The native Sahrawis, led by their independence movement the Polisario, are recognized by the International Court of Justice as the rightful owners of the land. However, Morocco hijacked Western Sahara's decolonization process from Spain in 1975, marching some 300,000 settlers into the territory. This triggered a 16-year war between Morocco and the Polisario, which forced more than 100,000 Sahrawis into exile across the border in Algeria. Technically, Western Sahara is still Spanish and remains Africa's last colony.
Whether adrift in refugee camps and dependent on aid or languishing under Moroccan rule, the Sahrawis are still fighting for their independence in an increasingly volatile region. Meanwhile, the UN has no mandate to monitor human rights in occupied Western Sahara. VICE News travels to Western Sahara's occupied and liberated territories, as well as the Polisario-run refugee camps in Algeria, to find out more about one of the world's least-reported conflicts.
In part three, VICE News finds out how the Polisario tackle the threats of terrorism and drug smuggling in their increasingly volatile part of the Sahara. We look at how the movement has improved security to avoid another event like the 2011 kidnapping of three foreign aid workers from a Polisario complex. Then we speak to the ministers of defense and security, and follow a Polisario anti-terrorism unit on one of their night patrols, going dangerously close to the smuggling routes of the Sahara.