The UN refugee agency today announced that the family visit flights under the Confidence Building Measures programme will resume. The first series of flights scheduled for 17 April includes four flights suspended in August 2013. UNHCR is in the process of submitting a list of applicants and the flights schedule for the rest of the year.
António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said: "I am pleased that following intensive negotiations a breakthrough was achieved which enables separated families to see each other again. It is vital that these visits continue as they increase trust and understanding in one of the world's longest-standing refugee situations. I urge all the concerned parties to remain committed to this process and UNHCR stands ready to provide support."
UNHCR's Confidence Building Measures programme for the Western Sahara refugee situation is an important humanitarian activity under its mandate. It includes cultural seminars, a programme of family visits and coordination meetings in Geneva with the two parties, Morocco and Frente Polisario, and two neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania.
Nearly 20,000 people have taken part in family visits since the programme began in 2004, and 150 people have participated in four seminars supported by the Portuguese government. The fifth Confidence Building Measures seminar is planned in the Azores, Portugal on 16 March and the next coordination meeting will be held in Geneva in June.
Families originating from Western Sahara have been separated 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 origin. Refugees started arriving in Algeria in 1975 after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara Territory and fighting broke out over its control.