A FAMILY in Sevilla has reported their son's kidnapping by his biological parents in the disputed Western Sahara region – the third incident of this kind to hit the headlines in the past few years.
The first was 23-year-old Mahdjouba Mohammed Hamdidaf, a graduate of Alicante University who managed to give her Saharan family the slip after several months and flee to the Spanish embassy in Algiers, who got her safely home to Ontinyent (Valencia province), but the second, Maloma, 22, insists she has remained in the north African region and married a local man of her own free will, despite her Sevilla parents insisting she is being held hostage.
The latest is a young man aged 25, Azman Mohammed Yahya, who – like the other two – stayed with the same Spanish family every summer as part of the 'holidays in peace' programme run between the two countries, but whose biological parents wanted to remain in Spain from age 11 to study there.
According to the family in Sanlúcar la Mayor, the boy's Saharan parents signed a fostering contract every year until he was 18, when Azman and his family of origin agreed for him to be adopted.
He has been a Spanish national since he was 23, but has often returned for visits to his biological family, part of the wilaya tribe in the politically and geographically Moroccan city of El Aaiún (Laayoune), considered the capital of Western Sahara - the last of which trips was in September and was going to be for 12 days.
“Azman extended his stay, albeit reluctantly, to attend his sister's wedding, but the day before he was due to fly home and just as he was packing his rucksack, his father told him not to bother packing as he was not going back to Spain,” explains the youth's family in Sanlúcar.
“He refused to obey his father, but when he got in the car to drive to the airport in Tindouf [geographically in Algeria but unofficially in Western Sahara], his father, mother and uncle intercepted him, dragged him out of the vehicle and took his rucksack off him, comoplete with his passport, ID, flight ticket, money and Spanish mobile phone.
“Azman was only allowed to contact us briefly, when he told us he had been kidnapped.
“They have not given him any explanation, but Azman is frightened because his father is a soldier, and our son is convinced his father is going to take him to the liberated Saharan territories and force him into an Army barracks.
Firstly, Azman's family contacted the Saharan Delegation in Andalucía and its head, Abidin Bucharaya promised to resolve the situation, but asked them to 'stay silent and not report it to the police' so as 'not to complicate the case'.
Bucharaya offered to negotiate personally, since the Polysarian Front, which is the point of contact between the two nations, is not able to intervene as an organisation.
Azman's foster sister Carmen travelled to the refugee camps in February, where she was promised Azman would be allowed leave from the territory on March 16 – but in the end he did not travel.
After carefully weighing up the situation following Azman's no-show in Spain, Carmen decided to report his abduction to the Spanish police.
Hundreds of young Saharan adults adopted by their Spanish summer host families, most of whom are now Spanish nationals themselves, are believed to have been taken hostage by their biological relatives during family visits to Tindouf and Laayoune refugee camps, and authorities, the Delegation and Polysarian Front have not been able to free them.
Most are believed to be women, since it is considered their duty to marry well and care for their families of origin and bear descendents, so Azman is the first young man whose case has reached the media.
Only Mahdjouba, now 25, is reported to have been released, although in her case, she escaped through her own efforts without help from the authorities.