The Moroccan government has spent millions of dollars developing fishing ports in Western Sahara, which has a population of about 500,000. It says it is spending millions more on development projects in Laayoune and elsewhere, including plans for urban public spaces, public transportation, the second-largest public library in Morocco-controlled territory, and Western Sahara's first university. The government has also attracted thousands of Moroccans to the territory with incentives like land, subsidized food, and lower taxes, changing the demographics of Western Sahara so that Saharawis are now believed to be a minority.
But Saharawi activists say that Saharawis don't reap the benefits from exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources. They complain of government neglect and discrimination against Saharawis in Western Sahara.Hospitals are so poor that many people try to go elsewhere for treatment, they say, while pointing out that there is yet no university in the territory.
Unemployment is high, and Saharawis say they are often passed over for government jobs or work in the fishing and phosphate industries, with those jobs going to immigrants from Morocco instead. And none of the benefits from mining reach the more than 100,000 Saharawis refugees, displaced by the war, who live in camps across the border in Algeria.
"They always claim they are building infrastructure and offering jobs to mask all this plundering of resources," rights activist Brahim Dahane says of the Moroccan authorities. "This is mere propaganda. It's only a way of legitimizing their plunder of natural resources in Western Sahara." Mr. Dahane claims government harassment forced him to close down his Internet cafe business, and he is now unemployed.