ON May 2019, the UN gave the UK six months to fully decolonise Mauritius by returning the Chagos Islands to it. As the deadline for the UK to relinquish this relic of empire nears, British corporations continue to fund colonialism elsewhere with impunity.

Like Chagossians, who Britain forcibly evicted from their island home of Diego Garcia to make way for a US military base, dozens of thousands of Saharawis were forced from their homes in Western Sahara in 1975.

Then, the Moroccan air force, with help from France, invaded their country and napalmed Saharawi refugees as they fled. Morocco claimed that, prior to Spanish colonisation of Western Sahara, the latter had been part of Morocco.

However, a 1975 International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion found that this was not the case, and insisted that the Saharawis should be fully decolonised and allowed their right to self- determination.

Moroccans and Saharawis were at war until 1991, when the UN brokered a ceasefire by promising a referendum on independence for Saharawis. Morocco has blocked this referendum ever since, and the UN is unable or unwilling to force its hand.

Morocco is this month celebrating the anniversary of their invasion with a “charity” football match involving several retired players from leading European teams.

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The Maghreb kingdom continues to occupy two thirds of Western Sahara, which the civil rights NGO Freedom House describes as one of the “worst of the worst” territories in the world in terms of repression.

Maintaining a military occupation like this for more than 40 years costs money. For example, the Saudi and French-funded military wall that encloses the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, the longest of its kind in the world, is manned by 100,000 thousands soldiers.

But the costs of occupation are offset by selling natural resources to foreign countries and companies, and by generating energy there for the Moroccan grid, and in the future, potentially for sale to the European market. Companies based in Scotland and England are aiding Morocco in this mission.

Irvine-based company Windhoist has been responsible for erecting Siemens-manufactured mills for a windfarm in Aftissat, occupied Western Sahara.

Solidarity groups Western Sahara Campaign UK and Brussels-based Western Sahara Resource Watch wrote to the company in 2017 explaining the ethical and legal problems with the company’s activities in occupied Western Sahara and the indigenous population’s firm opposition to the plunder of their resources. Neither solidarity group received a reply from Windhoist. According to international law, one cannot exploit the natural resources of an occupied country without the express consent of the indigenous population. To do so is plunder.

The Saharawi government-in-exile, based in four decade-old refugee camps in the desert of Western Algeria, have urged companies and other states to stay away from their natural resources, since exploiting them removes incentives for Morocco to engage in the UN-sponsored peace process.

The Saharawi leadership also says that natural resource exploitation funds the Moroccan occupation, encourages further increases in the Moroccan settler population (installing a settler population in an occupied territory is a war crime), and provides no benefits to Saharawis.

Saharawi civil society also protests. Refugees have staged large demonstrations against the likes of British/Irish oil company San Leon, German/Spanish Siemens and several others.

Saharawis living under Moroccan occupation have a tougher time when they protest.

For example Sidahmed Lemjeyed, president of the Committee for the Protection of Natural Resources of Western Sahara, is serving a life sentence for his work, while Sultana Khaya, president of the Saharawi League for Human Rights and Natural Resources, had an eye gouged out by Moroccan police in retribution for her participation in a sit-in. Windhoist follows in the footsteps of Edinburgh-based company Cairn Energy. Cairn, in partnership with the Moroccan king’s oil company ONHYM and American Kosmos Energy, was the first to drill for oil in occupied Western Sahara’s waters. Following several divestments from ethical shareholders including the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Cairn left in 2017.

Yet it has not ruled out returning. In fact, the well that Cairn and its partners drilled is currently being marketed by another host of British companies, all involved in a huge seismic survey of the seafloor of occupied Western Sahara. Kent-based company GeoEx, aided in data analysis by Oxfordshire-based Subsurface Resource Consulting and Milton Keynes-based data processing company Bridgeporth, is trying to flog its seismic data and market oil opportunities in occupied Western Sahara’s waters.

Western Sahara is regarded by the UN as the last colony in Africa. These unscrupulous companies, based both in Scotland and England, are profiting from the misery of a colonised people, and are directly undermining the Saharawis’ right to self-determination.

Joanna Allan (@joanna_allan) is Leverhulme Fellow at Northumbria University, and a volunteer with Western Sahara Campaign UK and Western Sahara Resource Watch