UNHCR Chief starts visit in North Africa

Briefing Notes, 8 September 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 September 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

High Commissioner António Guterres arrives in Algiers today for a 5-day visit to Algeria and Morocco that will include meetings with top government officials in both countries, visits to Western Sahara, and to Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, western Algeria to review first-hand the situation in the sites and to assess the overall conditions of the refugees.

Guterres will also review the Confidence Building Measures (CBM) program run by UNHCR aimed at addressing the effects of prolonged separation between the Saharawi refugees in the camps in Tindouf and their families in Western Sahara. The CBM program, which started in March 2004, facilitates family visits and provides a free telephone service in the camps so that refugees can connect with their family members in the Territory.

The High Commissioner's mission to the camps, which takes place during the month of Ramadan is a sign of solidarity with the populations of the region. It is the first mission for a High Commissioner for refugees since 1976.

Saharawi refugees started arriving in Algeria in the mid-seventies. UNHCR has been providing assistance to this group since the influx into the Tindouf area in 1975-76.

During his visit to both Algeria and Morocco, Guterres will also discuss the issue of refugee protection in North Africa and the efforts of the concerned governments in building their respective national asylum systems.