The High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is convinced that the final settlement of the Western Sahara conflict goes through strengthening the confidence-building measures program established in 2004.
Family visits exchange constitute the key element of the UNHCR-sponsored program which is aimed at restoring confidence through the reunion of Sahrawi families that have been separated for over 37 years.
According to the UNHCR, the option of voluntary return of the Sahrawis to their birthplace “will be essential for a future political solution agreed upon by the parties” to the Sahara conflict under the aegis of the United Nations.
This is one of the conclusions reached by the UNHCR following the fourth meeting on the assessment of the confidence building program, held recently in Geneva. The meeting was attended by delegations from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario.
Participants have agreed to extend to 2014 the program of family visits exchange between residents of the Algeria-based Tindouf camps and their families living in Morocco’s southern provinces, the UNHCR said in a statement.
Among other measures, the UNHCR will continue the organization of seminars designed to build confidence between the parties and supplement thus the UN efforts seeking a political solution. The upcoming seminar is scheduled to be held in Portugal in October 2013.
So far, nearly 20,000 Sahrawis from both sides of the Moroccan-Algerian border have benefited from the family visits program since it was launched almost ten years ago. The latest trip took place last May.
However, whatever the arguments of the UNHCR officials on the usefulness of such visits, the Polisario leaders, supported by Algerian authorities, have always expressed some reservations on the program. Actually, they fear to see the program beneficiaries from the Tindouf camps settle definitively in Morocco as it already happened many times, while an increasing number of such cases would surely harm their separatist thesis.