Western Sahara: Family visits resumed

Briefing Notes, 3 November 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 3 November 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

After a five-month suspension, UNHCR today resumed family visits between Sahrawi refugees living in the camps in Tindouf, south-western Algeria, and their relatives living in various towns in the Western Sahara Territory. This morning, 15 relatives of Sahrawi refugees took off in a MINURSO (UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) flight from Laayoune in the Western Sahara. A stop was made in Dakhla City in the Territory, where an additional 15 passengers were picked up.

The plane is expected to arrive around 11 am in Tindouf in south-western Algeria. After refuelling, it will immediately return to Laayoune with a group of 33 Sahrawi refugees from Smara camp. Both groups will spend five days with family members in Laayoune and in the Algerian refugee camps.

UNHCR first started organizing the family visits in March 2004 as part of a series of confidence building measures. The possibility of visiting family and friends for the first time in 30 years has been extremely popular, with nearly 2,500 people taking advantage of the opportunity.

If funding is available, UNHCR plans to continue the visits until the end of next year, benefitting an additional 2,632 people.

Other confidence-building measures include telephone services between the refugee camps and the Western Sahara territory, which have benefited over 56,000 refugees since 2004.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Confidence Building Measures 2009/2010 Western Sahara

Information brochure about UNHCR's Confidence Building Measures programme aimed at addressing the effects of prolonged separation between the Saharan refugees in the camps near Tindouf, Algeria and their families in Western Sahara.

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

Despite considerable dangers, migrants seeking a better future and refugees fleeing war and persecution continue to board flimsy boats and set off across the high seas. One of the main routes into Europe runs from West Africa to Spain's Canary Islands.

Before 2006, most irregular migrants taking this route used small vessels called pateras, which can carry up to 20 people. They left mostly from Morocco and the Western Sahara on the half-day journey. The pateras have to a large extent been replaced by boats which carry up to 150 people and take three weeks to reach the Canaries from ports in West Africa.

Although only a small proportion of the almost 32,000 people who arrived in the Canary Islands in 2006 applied for asylum, the number has gone up. More than 500 people applied for asylum in 2007, compared with 359 the year before. This came at a time when the overall number of arrivals by sea went down by 75 percent during 2007.

Sighted off Spain's Canary Islands

Western Sahara Family Visits

Emotions are running high in the Sahara desert as families split for nearly three decades by conflict over sovereignty of the Western Sahara Territory are being briefly reunited by a UNHCR family visit scheme.

Living in five windswept and isolated camps around Tindouf in south-western Algeria for the last 28 years, the refugees have been almost totally cut off from their relatives in the Territory. So when the UN refugee agency launched its five-day family visit scheme in March this year, there were tears of joy as well as apprehension at the prospect of reunion.

The visit scheme is proving extremely popular, with more than 800 people already having visited their relatives and another 18,000 signed up to go. In addition to the family visit scheme, the UN refugee agency has opened telephone centres in some of the camps, creating another channel through which long-lost family members can make contact.

Photos taken in June 2004.

Western Sahara Family Visits

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural GatheringPlay video

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural Gathering

People from Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and from Western Sahara Territory meet for a cultural seminar in the Azores Islands as part of a confidence building measures programme.