(Tunis) – A year has passed since a woman on a week-long visit to her family in a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria was reportedly prevented from returning to Spain, Human Rights Watch said today.

Maloma Morales 

© 2015 Private

The family of Maloma Morales de Matos (or Maaluma Takya Hamda, according to her birth certificate) has claimed that she wishes to stay with them. But Morales, a 23-year-old Spanish citizen of Sahrawi origin who has since December 12, 2015, remained with them in their home, has been unable to reach a neutral place where she can express her preference free of pressure. The Polisario Front, which administers the camps, has repeatedly provided assurances that it is working to resolve the issue but so far has lacked either the ability or the political will to ensure that this adult woman is free to choose to stay or leave.

The Polisario Front’s assurances in this case must be seen in the light of its failure to end similar ordeals for at least two other adult Sahrawi women who have legal residency in Spain and whose families in the refugee camps have refused for nearly three years to let them leave. They are Darya Embarek Selma, 27, and Nadjiba Mohamed Kacem, 25. Each confirmed recently to Human Rights Watch her wish to return to Spain immediately.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, when he visited the refugee camps on March 5, 2016, raised the cases of the three women directly with the then-secretary general of the Polisario Front, Mohamed Abdelaziz. Brahim Ghali succeeded Abdelaziz after he died in May.

In Ghali’s prior post as the Polisario Front’s ambassador to Algeria, he spoke to Human Rights Watch in October 2014, about an ongoing case of a woman confined by her family contrary to her wishes. Ghali said that while the goal is for the woman to exercise her choice in the matter, Sahrawi “patriarchal society” with its “traditions,” “culture,” and “complex family ties,” required them to handle the matter carefully.

“’Traditions’ and ‘culture’ deserve respect,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But not if they allow a family to hold an adult against her will. The Polisario’s lack of effective action in these cases calls into question its professed commitment to women’s equal rights.”