UNHCR chief condemns Algiers bombing; mourns dead

News Stories, 11 December 2007

© UNHCR/L.Aerts
The UNHCR office in Algiers before it was badly damaged by an explosion on December 11, 2007.

GENEVA, December 11 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres expressed shock and outrage Tuesday over bombings in Algiers that reportedly killed dozens of people, including two UNHCR staff members, and left several injured.

"It's a tragedy and I want to express my deepest condolences to UN staff, to their families and to the Algerian people all of whom were victimized by this absolutely intolerable attack," Guterres said in Geneva's UN headquarters.

"I'm terribly shocked by these bombings to both the UN premises in Algiers and to the Constitutional Court. It doesn't make sense at all; it's totally abhorrent," added Guterres, who also called for a minute's silence when he opened an international meeting in Geneva on protecting refugees in migration flows.

A survey of UNHCR staff in Algiers showed that two of the agency's drivers were killed. All other employees were accounted for, but several suffered injuries and trauma from the blast that occurred in a street separating the main UN office from UNHCR's compound.

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
UNHCR organizes a family reunion in Tindouf, Algeria for Sahrawi refugees.

"The UN is an entity that works for world peace, an entity that tries to be an honest broker, especially when dealing with the humanitarian needs of refugees and other victims of violence and persecution," Guterres said. "This makes this type of attack even more absurd."

UNHCR has had a presence in Algeria since 1976. It presently runs a small office in Algiers, with a normal staff strength of about 12 people. It was not known how many were in the office at the time of the blast.

The refugee agency in 1985 also opened a sub-office in the western Algeria municipality of Tindouf, from which it looks after the aid and protection needs of Sahrawi refugees in four camps.

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António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

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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

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Although the border was closed, guards felt compassion for the newborn child and let Peroz's family enter. A few days later Peroz and her children were reunited with their father and now they are living with hundreds of other refugees in a small park on the outskirts of Erbil.

Battling mosquitoes and soaring daytime temperatures, and with little more than blankets for comfort and a breakfast of bread and cheese for nourishment, Peroz and her husband hope to be transferred to a new tented settlement.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Syrians have flooded into northern Iraq, fleeing violence. With existing camps at full capacity, many refugee families are finding shelter anywhere they can. The local government has started transferring people from Qushtapa Park to a nearby camp. UNHCR is registering the refugees, as well as providing tents and life-saving assistance.

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