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.