Western Sahara – latest confidence-building meeting concludes in Portugal

Press Releases, 14 February 2013

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, welcomes the successful conclusion on Saturday February 8 of a seminar involving 33 participants from the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria and Western Sahara territory, with coordinators from the Moroccan Government and Polisario Front.

The seminar, held in Portugal, was the latest in a series of confidence-building steps aimed at linking Sahrawi refugees from Tindouf camps in Algeria with their family members in the Territory, pending a political solution to one of the world's longest-running refugee situation. Over the course of the week-long event, participants spent time together with facilitators from Mauritania and discussed ideas aimed at maintaining cultural heritage.

"This seminar series is an important component of UNHCR's effort to help build confidence among the different parties," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "I very much hope that this will contribute to the on-going efforts by the UN and the concerned parties to find a political solution to the Western Sahara situation, so that Sahrawi refugees will one day be able to go home."

The seminar was organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with the support of the Government of Portugal. It is part of a wider Confidence-Building Measures programme that involves Morocco and the Polisario Front, and the neighbouring countries of Algeria and Mauritania.

Other confidence building initiatives in the programme include family visit flights between the Tindouf refugee camps and the Territory, which is part of continued attempts by UNHCR to build a humanitarian bridge between the refugees in the Tindouf camps and their relatives in the Territory, who have been separated for the past 37 years.

For further information please contact:

  • Babar Baloch, baloch@unhcr.org, +41 79 557 9106
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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.