Agreement reached on increased family visits for long-separated Sahrawi families

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Separated families meet up again during a family visit in Western Sahara. [Photo: UNHCR/S.Hopper]

Agreement has been reached to expand a programme of family visits between Western Saharan refugees living in camps near Tindouf, Algeria, and their families in the Western Sahara Territory.

The agreement follows a meeting in Geneva between Morocco, Frente Polisario, Algeria, Mauritania and the UN refugee agency –UNHCR.

The visits are a key element in a UNHCR programme of Confidence Building Measures that has been underway since 2004, aiming to support Sahrawi families separated for more than 37 years in one of the world's longest-running refugee situations. The principal other element in the programme is a series of seminars aimed at building an environment of confidence and trust to complement the efforts of the UN in finding a political solution.

Participants noted that the option of voluntary return of refugees to their places of origin will be key in any future political solution reached with the parties under the auspices of the UN.

Chief of Staff at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Athar Sultan-Khan, says "This is a welcome step as we work together towards a solution of the Western Saharan refugee situation, so that one day, refugees may be able to go home in dignity and honour".

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also sent a message of support to the meeting's participants, encouraging the parties to find ways to expand the programme of confidence building measures.

Sahrawi families have been separated from each other for nearly four decades due to the absence of a political solution that might end their plight. Refugees started arriving in Algeria in 1976 after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara Territory and fighting broke out over its control.

Donn Bobb, United Nations.

Duration: 1’37″

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