Country number: 59 (if it’s counted as Morocco)
Territory number: 220
When? November 2019, first leg, going on to Mauritania
‘For those of us who have actually been to Western Sahara, there is no question that it is an occupation.’
Professor Stephen Zunes, University of San Francisco
I only have an hour at Casablanca to connect to Layounne, but it’s a very straightforward connection. The only slight obstacle is trying to work out whether my next flight to Layounne is domestic or international. Morocco regards Western Sahara as its own territory and has occupied roughly half of the area for many years. Naturally, therefore it’s domestic.
At Layounne I’m the first to the immigration counter and the last out to the baggage area. No visa required but the immigration officials are almost paranoid about checking I’m not here to work – this is not a tourist destination – and insist on calling my guides to vouch for me. Fortunately, Naji (who owns the company but only speaks Arabic and French) and Khalil (who speaks English) are waiting outside and advocate for me. Then I have to navigate customs, where my bags are thoroughly searched and my cameras indicate to the man on the scanning machine that I am a journalist. Naji and Khalil do their stuff again.
Finally, I’m allowed though, to Layounne, the capital, (or principal town of the area, depending on who you believe), on the western edge of the Sahara. It’s a shame that my bag isn’t here too. It obviously didn’t have the same easy connection.