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Western Sahara Confidence Building Measures seminar opens

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Western Sahara Confidence Building Measures seminar opens

17 March 2014

AZORES, PORTUGAL, 17 MARCH 2014 - Some 140 people from the Saharawi refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria and from Western Sahara Territory today began a week-long cultural seminar in the Azores islands, the latest in a series aimed at increasing trust and understanding in one of the world's most protracted refugee situations.

The seminars are one of several components of a UNHCR-run Confidence-Building Measures (CBM) programme that has been underway since 2004. Representatives from the Moroccan Government and the Frente Polisario accompanied the participants. Portugal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Regional Government in Azores have also provided support.

"UNHCR hopes that the programme under our humanitarian track will complement the efforts of the United Nations under its political track to find a solution to this longest unresolved refugee situation. The seminars, like the family visits, are vital elements of our programme, linking a population divided by the conflict for almost four decades," said Athar Sultan-Khan, Chief of Staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR's Confidence Building Measures programme for the Western Saharan refugee situation includes cultural seminars, a programme of family visits and coordination meetings in Geneva with the two parties, Morocco and Frente Polisario, and the two neighbouring countries as observers, Algeria and Mauritania. The family visit flights will resume on 17 April and the next coordination meeting will be held in Geneva in June 2014.

Families originating from Western Sahara have been separated because of the absence of a political solution that might end their plight and allow them to return to their places of origin. 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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