11/23/2011 04:48 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2012

Truth in the Sahara: Refugees and Hostages

The sheer enormity of the African continent defies understanding. The whole of China, India, Japan, the United States and all of Europe would comfortably fit on the land mass of Africa, with room to breathe around the edges. Despite the diversity of people, culture, and history, there is no one-step easy solution for managing the multiple crises on the continent. The famine and denial of humanitarian aid across the Horn of Africa is well known, and a devastating situation. Mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide continue unabated in Sudan and South Sudan history at the hands of Omar al Bashir.

North Africa has seen refugees and revolution from Egypt to Tunisia. But, as one looks to the Western Sahara, Algeria and Morocco are deadlocked over resolution. In Algeria, protesters concerned about housing and employment have committed suicide via self-immolation. Algeria has stood firm, promised reform and yet their dirtiest little secret is leaking out. All is not well with the Saharawi refugees, or more apt, hostages. Life in Tindouf is one of despair. Algeria's notoriously heavy hand is off the wheel, they look away as their Polisario Front handmaidens increase suffering in the refugee camps. Hostages on Algerian soil, micromanaged by the Polisario, is quickly becoming an untenable situation.

On the other side of this dispute lies Morocco, where stability is de rigeur, despite the violence and ravages of civil war that continue to rage across the continent. Morocco's autonomy plan for the Saharawi people won a strong endorsement from the Obama administration when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton articulated forceful support.

Clinton, standing with visiting Moroccan Foreign Minister Taeib Fassi Fihri, said the US administrations of president Bill Clinton, president George W. Bush, and now President Barack Obama have steadfastly supported the plan.

We have stated our belief that Morocco's autonomy plan is serious, realistic and credible, a potential approach to satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity," Clinton told reporters.

Al Qaeda on the Mahgreb, AQIM, is eager to seize people, assets, weapons and traffic in the same. Their unholy alliance with the Polisario Front is deeply troubling. The only thing more bizarre than holding thousands hostage on Algerian soil, depriving the Saharawi people of the right to return to their homeland, is the Polisario's obsession with celebrity. It's Qaddafi all over again.

The issue recently returned to the fore when three aid workers were kidnapped. All of a sudden, the human rights community had to reassess. Others have been right all along. Joseph Grieboski, Founder and Chairman of the Nobel nominated INSTITUTE of Religion and Public Policy, is one such individual. In his latest column on the Western Sahara, he laid out incontrovertible facts.

...the international community continued its ignorance and blindness to the suffering and dangers in the Sahara until Oct. 23, when Spaniards Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon and Enric Gonyalons and Italian Rosella Urru were kidnapped from a protocol house in the small Algerian town of Rabouni, home to the headquarters of the Polisario Front and near an Algerian military base.

Spanish media -- citing Spanish aid organization colleagues of the two Spaniards kidnapped -- said shots were fired during the kidnapping and that at least one of the three captives may have been injured.

The Polisario Front, quick to deflect any responsibility directly or indirectly for the kidnappings, announced that it was the work of al Qaeda in the Maghreb, despite AQIM to this date not having claimed responsibility for the acts. In a statement, the Polisario said the armed attackers had arrived at the camp in four-wheel drive vehicles and left in the direction of neighboring Mali "from where they came.

And this:

Furthermore, if the Spanish and Italian press reports of the collusion between the Polisario and AQIM in the kidnappings are true, it is impingent on Algeria as a member of the community of civilized nations to regain its control over the Polisario, exert its influence over the Polisario to release the kidnapped aid workers, and by whatever means necessary to dismantle the relationship between the Polisario and AQIM that threatens both Algeria, the refugees, the international aid workers who visit the region, and North Africa as a whole.

Equality is a wonderful but unforgiving word. If we truly believe that all are created equal, then that equality and all the inalienable rights must be given to Saharawis as well. Open the gates. Many understand the concept of "Right of Return." They understand that as long as Algeria allows the detention of thousands of people on its soil, allows them to be abused by the Polisario, rather than allow them autonomy and the relative safety of their lands across the Western Sahara, there is no equality. No justice.