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Morocco / Western Sahara: ICRC visits 396 families of Moroccan prisoners held by the Polisario Front

21-02-2002 News Release 02/08

Zohra, who will turn 24 next summer, has never met her father. Born in 1978, three years after the conflict broke out in Western Sahara and a few weeks after her father was captured, she only knows him through letters and photographs delivered by the ICRC. After so many years, she no longer knows what to write to the father she has never known and wonders whether she will ever meet him. Like Zohra, there are countless children who have grown up without a father, wives who are still waiting for their husbands to return, mothers whose only wish is the see their sons one last time and brothers and sisters for whom the wait is unbearable.

From 3 to 14 February, two ICRC delegates visited the families of 396 of the 1,362 Moroccan prisoners still being held by the Polisario Front in the area of Tindouf, Algeria. The visits were organized in cooperation with the Moroccan Red Crescent and with the support of the Royal Gendarmerie, the social services of the Royal Armed Forces and various local authorities. The delegates endeavoured to comfort the families and brought them news of their detained relatives. They also collected letters and took photographs of the families to bring back to the prisoners.

The ICRC is deeply concerned about the increasing poor physical and mental health of the 1,362 prisoners, 916 of whom were captured over 20 years ago and have been held longer than any other persons detained in connection with an armed conflict in the world today.

Following the repatriation on 17 January of 115 prisoners, which rekindled the hope of numerous families, the ICRC reiterates its call for the release of all remaining prisoners.