Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Only Thing Certain Is That Nothing Is Certain

Paris is freezing. My hands are in pain, trying to hold the metal of the camera. The sting of the cold is almost too much. I think of the men and women I saw last night sleeping in the waiting room of Gare de Lyon.

There's a mist of frost over the city. Mostapha is here for his asylum application interview. Last night, the friend we were staying with in Paris asked Mostapha "do you want to know the history of Western Sahara?" as preparation for his interview. They've been going through significant dates together, to make sure the timeline is accurate. They watch an online video of an interview with an Egyptian Sheikh explaining the history of Western Sahara, but Mostapha doesn't like some of his conclusions. He shakes his head and tuts when the Sheikh says Western Sahara was part of the Moroccan Kingdom. "He's lying."

The next morning, in a cafe near the ministry of refugee affairs, we sit waiting for the offices to open, trying to stay warm. Mostapha is still running through the details of his journey to France, and his reasons for applying for asylum, to get everything straight and clear in his head. He disappears for a few minutes, and we smile when he emerges from the bathroom wearing his Dra'a, long blue robe, with the folds of cloth wrapped around his arm. We're used to seeing him in jeans and a t-shirt, but he says it's important to wear the Dra'a for his interview. He takes pride in it, even though it means he'll suffer from the cold on the walk to his interview. We wish him luck and he leaves a little early to make his 9am appointment.

An hour later, he returns to the cafe, a smile on his face. "It was fine," he says, calmly. "Their questions were simple. They asked how I got here to France and about my background and my family. I think it was fine. They say I'll get a decision in one month." We sit down for another coffee.

Later, back in Avignon, Hossam asks "what if they don't accept his application?" But I don't know the answer.

I'm reminded of certain arguments. They're not far from the arguments we always have about Palestine. There are differences of opinion about how to approach the Sahrawi cause - differences that are becoming clearer to me now. The recent protest camp, and all the violence that followed, has split the opinions of the Sahrawi down the middle. "We have the right to defend ourselves" one said. "No, those camps were a shame on us and all Sahrawi" another told me, "violence only breeds violence."

Some say Moroccan policemen were slaughtered like sheep. Others say it's not true, those videos were fake. We don't now the real number of dead and injured. We don't know the real timeline of events. Was anyone else there to witness? The only thing certain is that nothing is certain.

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