17 April 2014

Western Sahara - UN Refugee Agency Announces Resumption of Family Visit Flights

The United Nations refugee agency announced today that following many months of suspension, family visit flights between Sahrawi refugees living in camps near Tindouf, Algeria, and their families in the territory of Western Sahara has resumed.

The flights, under the agency's Confidence Building Measures programme, resumed yesterday with a total of 192 people gathered from Tindouf and other nearby refugee camps taking part in the visits.

"I am pleased that these flights have now resumed, enabling separated families to see each other again," said Athar Sultan Khan, chief of staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"I urge all the concerned parties to remain committed to this humanitarian process and UNHCR stands ready to provide support," he added.

UNHCR's Confidence Building Measures programme for the Western Sahara refugee situation is an important humanitarian activity under its mandate. It includes cultural seminars, a programme of family visits and coordination meetings in Geneva with the two parties, Morocco and Frente Polisario, and two neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania.

Nearly 20,000 people have taken part in family visits since the programme began in 2004, and more than 150 people have participated in five seminars supported by the Portuguese Government. The fifth Confidence Building Measures seminar took place in the Azores, Portugal, in March 2014 and the next coordination meeting will be held in Geneva in June.

According to UNHCR, refugee families in the camps originating from the territory of Western Sahara have been separated for nearly four decades because of the absence of a political solution that might end their plight. Refugees started arriving in Algeria in 1975 after Spain withdrew from Western Sahara and fighting broke out over its control.

The UN has been involved in mediation efforts to find a settlement to the Western Sahara dispute, led in recent years by the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, who has called on both parties to demonstrate flexibility and creativity in working towards a solution.

Meanwhile in New York today, the Security Council held a closed-door meeting to hear a briefing on the latest developments regarding Western Sahara.

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