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Morocco urges relocating West Sahara refugees September 29, 2009

Posted by saharanews in Uncategorized.
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Morocco on Monday called for the United Nations refugee agency to propose to Western Sahara refugees living in Algerian camps relocation to a third country.

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Morocco’s UN ambassador in Geneva, Omar Hilale, said Algeria is blocking solutions for “voluntary repatriation” to the part of Western Sahara controlled by Morocco as well as “local integration” in Algerian territory.

Hilale said Algeria’s position amounted to condemning the refugees to “collective exile in perpetuity.”

Speaking to the executive committee of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he said that “Morocco would like HCR… to inform the people in the camps of their right to leave the camps and freely choose to be relocated in a third country.”

According to the Polisario Front, an independence movement for Western Sahara, more than 165,000 refugees from the former Spanish colony annexed in 1975 by Morocco live in the Tindouf camps, about 1,800 kilometres (1,120 miles) southwest of Algiers.

The UN has said the Polisario’s estimates are too high and has called for a census to be conducted at the camps, which Algeria, a Polisario supporter, has refused.

The Moroccan ambassador said the UNHCR should “no longer limit itself in the Tindouf camps only to providing food” but should extend its mission “to general protection and in particular to putting in place lasting solutions”.

Hilale also said Morocco feared that the despair in the camps “could be exploited by terrorist networks which hold sway in the Sahel Saharan region.”

He also said that the refugees, no matter where they might move in the world, would retain their right to participate in any referendum on a political solution for Western Sahara, based on negotiations under the auspices of the UN Security Council.

Morocco claims historical sovereignty over Western Sahara and has proposed a plan for broad self-government, but no independence.

Earlier this month Antonio Guterres made the first visit by a head of the UN refugee agency to the camps of Western Sahara’s refugees since they were founded more than 30 years ago.

“These refugees are living for tens of years in precarious conditions. With this visit I want to better know their needs in order to be able to bring them more aid in the most effective way possible,” Guterres said on September 10.

Middle East Online

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