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UNHCR launches first flight in expanded family visit programme for Sahrawis

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UNHCR launches first flight in expanded family visit programme for Sahrawis

11 April 2012

GENEVA - UNHCR on Wednesday launched the first flight in an expanded programme of visits for long-separated Sahrawi families in the Tindouf camps of Algeria and in Western Sahara Territory.

A Boeing 737 aircraft transported 150 visiting relatives from Western Sahara Territory to the camps in Algeria , and returned carrying 137 Sahrawi refugees from the Tindouf camps back to Western Sahara Territory.

The visits are for five days. Previously a 30-seat Antonov aircraft has been employed. With the new aircraft, up to 6000 people are expected to benefit from the visits over the coming year.

"This increased capacity is important, as it means that many more husbands and wives, parents and children that have been separated for decades will be able to spend a few precious days together," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "The visits contribute significantly to relieving the suffering due to the separation of the Sahrawi families."

The family visits are part of a Confidence-Building Measures programme that was launched in 2004 with the cooperation of the governments of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, as well as the Polisario Front, and UNHCR. Agreement among the various parties to increase the family visits was reached at a meeting in Geneva in January this year.

Another element of the Confidence-Building Measures programme is cultural seminars. UNHCR has regular meetings with Morocco, Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania who all contribute to this humanitarian and non-political programme.

So far over 12,800 people have visited family members in the Tindouf camps in Algeria and in the Western Sahara Territory. A further 42,000 Sahrawi are on waiting lists.

Sahrawi refugees began arriving in Algeria in 1976 after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara and fighting broke out over its control. Most of the Sahrawi refugees have been living for more than 35 years in the desert regions of Tindouf. However, many Sahrawis stayed in the Western Sahara and today families remain separated.

For further information, please contact: Sybella Wilkes: +41227397968