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UN refugee agency resumes family reunion flights

Western Sahara: UN refugee agency resumes family reunion flights

Nov 3 2006 After a five-month suspension, the United Nations refugee agency today resumed family visit flights between Sahrawi refugees living in the camps in Tindouf, Algeria, and their relatives in various towns in the Western Sahara Territory, some of whom have not seen each other for 30 years.

If funding is available, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plans to continue the visits until the end of next year, benefiting more than 2,600 people, agency spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

UNHCR first started organizing the family visits in March 2004 as part of a series of confidence building measures in the conflict between Morocco, which claims the former Spanish colony, and the Frente POLISARIO independence movement. Other measures include telephone services between refugee camps and the territory, which have benefited over 56,000 refugees since 2004.

The possibility of visiting family and friends for the first time in 30 years has been extremely popular, with nearly 2,500 people taking advantage of the opportunity, and in April the UN Security Council reiterated its call for contributions to family reunions.

Today, 15 relatives of Sahrawi refugees took off in a UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) flight from Laayoune in the Western Sahara for Tindouf in south-western Algeria. A stop was made in Dakhla City in the Territory, where an additional 15 passengers were picked up.

After refuelling, the plane was returning to Laayoune with a group of 33 Sahrawi refugees from Smara camp. Both groups will spend five days with family members.

Ends

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