I have just come from Tindouf last night, where I saw first-hand the very harsh conditions of the refugees. For more than forty years, they have been separated from their families. I was deeply, deeply saddened – and especially concerned about the children who may not be able to imagine life beyond the camps. The children who were born 40 years ago, they have become 40 years old – can you believe that? Young children, boys and girls, I was so sad, particularly sad for them because if they think that the end of their camp is the end of the world, end of their vision, end of their dream, then what will happen to them? We have to be responsible. We have to do much, much more.
I saw tens of thousands of people yesterday. They all came out of refugee camps. It was 18 years after when the last Secretary-General visited that camp. Kofi Annan, my predecessor was there in 1998. Eighteen years after I was there. It was too late and I felt very much guilty sense that why am I here so late? But I thought never too late, anyway. I have seen from their faces who are sending their urgent appeal, messages, out of frustration, out of anger, against the international community, against the United Nations and maybe the countries who can have influence on them, including the members of the Security Council.
The world cannot forget the Sahrawi people. They must enjoy their human rights – their human dignity; even minimum human dignity I couldn’t find from there – especially the right to self-determination within the framework of a mutually acceptable political solution.
Addressing the Western Sahara issue is a major purpose of my visit to this region. I am here with an urgent plea for more attention and action.
I intend to resume this trip with visits to Morocco and Laayoune.
I have three important objectives of my visit to this region.
First: to assess the search for a settlement on Western Sahara. I am calling for a more positive spirit by all the parties. I am here with [Personal] Representative Ambassador Christopher Ross but I have asked him to engage in more shuttle diplomacy so that this dormant negotiation could be resuscitated as soon as possible
Second, to shine a spotlight on this neglected humanitarian tragedy. The world must address the terrible suffering of the Sahrawi refugees. And I’m going to convene soon in Geneva a donor conference.
And third, to pay tribute to the staff of our Mission there, MINURSO, and encourage them to continue their mission even though it may be very difficult. It’s the middle of desert, middle of nowhere. I was very much saddened but I was very much grateful to these young women and men who were just sitting in the middle of desert where there was no other facilities but engaging in monitoring the ceasefire, demining and providing water and sanitation to these people. We have many hardworking United Nations staff and international humanitarian agencies who are working day and night.
I have held very productive talks with the Foreign Minister this morning and I’m going to engage in continuing dialogue with His Excellency President Bouteflika and the Prime Minister and other Algerian leaders today. This country has played a key role on Western Sahara and I really count on the government of Algeria and its people for their continuing support. I heard from particularly many women refugees, they were sending their appreciation to Algerian people.