Western Sahara Confidence Building Measures seminar opens

Press Releases, 30 October 2013

AZORES, PORTUGAL, 30 OCTOBER 2013 Forty-two people from the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria and from Western Sahara Territory today began a week-long seminar, the latest in a series aimed at increasing trust and understanding in one of the world's longest-standing refugee situations.

The seminars are one of several components of a UNHCR-run confidence-building programme that has been under way since 2004. Representatives from the Moroccan Government and the Frente Polisario accompanied the participants.

The seminar will focus on the importance of the nomadic Sahrawi culture including its history and its prominence in literature and music.

"These seminars, and the wider confidence-building measures, are vital elements of UNHCR's humanitarian track to link a population divided by conflict. They complement the parallel political track under way by the United Nations towards finding a solution to this situation," said Athar Sultan-Khan, Chief of Staff at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR's Confidence Building Measures programme for the Sahrawi situation includes seminars on Sahrawi culture, a programme of family visits and coordination meetings in Geneva with the two parties, Morocco and Frente Polisario, and the two neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania. They are intended to allow Sahrawi families, separated for more than 38 years in one of the world's longest-running refugee situations, to be together, exchange information and discuss various aspects of their culture. Nearly 20,000 people have taken part in family visits since the programme began, and 160 people have participated in four seminars supported by the Portuguese government.

Sahrawi families have been separated from each other for nearly four decades because of the absence of a political solution that might end their plight and allow them to return to their places of origins. Refugees started arriving in Algeria in 1975 after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara Territory and fighting broke out over its control.

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